Take larger than life characters, add plenty of children, throw in corny jokes, mix in references to local places and people and, hey presto, you’ve got the recipe for a perfect panto.
Even with the best ingredients in place, it’s the performers who make the show and draw the crowds who want to see neighbours and friends let their hair down for a couple of hours.
It’s that special blend of homegrown cast and fun-packed tale which is pulling in villages to a production of Dick Whittington in Hope this week.
The panto has proved so popular that the sold-out sign will be going up this evening (Friday, March 21) and tomorrow night.
Hardly surprising given that HADIT (Hope Amateur Dramatic Independent Theatre) only produce a panto every couple of years. Dick Whittington is their third production and, according to comments from viewers, their best yet.
Produced by Carolyn Garwes with musical direction by Nigel Topping, this impressive panto has grown from brainstorming sessions with group members and some “borrowing” from other theatre companies. Even if you know the story inside out, there’s plenty of surprises to keep you hooked until the end.
Biggest surprise for me was the reaction from the audience to the villain of the piece, King Rat. A magnificent performance from Paul Archer in the role drew more cheers than boos last night and his signature song, Don’t Stop Me Now, revved up the audience like no other. HIs rat pack of children are simply adorable and his adult sidekicks Nip and Tuck (played by Jackie Topping and Rory Burwood) ramp up the comedy factor.
The biggest laughs are whipped up by Philip Taylor who plays Sarah the Cook and gives many a professional panto dame a run for his/her money. In a knockout performance, Philip flirts with the audience, flutters twinkly false eyelashes at cast members and heaves up a lop-sided bosom decorated with cup cakes. HIs stage presence is as marvellous as his costume, with first-class diction and projection.
Jo Elliott shines in the title role, oozing confidence and lkeability and bringing one of the finest singing voices to the show. She’s aided by Sean Ryan playing ginger Ninja Tommy the Cat, probably the largest felines to prowl the panto stage.
Corny jokes which get the audience chuckling and groaning in equal measure are are in the capable hands of Fiona Johnston as the cook’s dozy son, Idle Jack.
Nick Williams plays the wealthy and officious Alderman Fitzwarren and Philomena Washington his daughter Alice.
Reflecting the London theme, Val Johnson is dressed as a Pearly Queen to play Fairy Bowbells while Jane Bramwell, Jenni Argent and Sue Creswick personify the Bow bells by sporting eye-catching costumes and singing like a peal of bells.
The staging is as effective as the performances, During the first half, the stage is dominated by a book emblazoned with Dick Whittington on its cover which opens out to form a street backdrop. Sketches are played in front of the curtain at Hope Methodist Hall to enable change of scenery. The second half includes scenes set aboard a ship and in a sultan’s palace.
Much to the delight of younger children, a camel and a gorilla make appearances in the second half.
And, like the audience, panto hero Dick finally realises that there really is no place like Hope.