Slave of the Ring/Genie of the Lamp: Suzanne Shaw
Wishee Washee – Tim Vine
Princess Jasmine – Helena Dowling
Widow Twankey – Graham Hoadley
Aladdin – Gareth Leighton
Abanazar – Jonathan Ellis
Emperor of China – John Pennington
PC Pong – Yo Santhaveesuk
Director: Christopher Dunham
Script: Eric Potts
Choreographer: David Lee
Its that time of year again, folks – when Him Indoors starts reading the panto listings and digging out the batteries to put in the glow-in-the-dark wand to wave. Plus we had to be out the house because the builders are in, destroying the bathroom. So its off to sunny Richmond, boys and girls, mums and dads, for an exciting trip to Pantoland! Mind you, sunny Richmond looks increasingly bleak – there are more empty shops than last year and even the charity shops have put their prices up. We’ve had to come out again today and are ensconced in the library, where I am tapping away at the laptop and Him Indoors is sitting opposite me writing Christmas cards and getting glitter all over the table. He just said to me “I wonder if this is what it was like for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert?” and I glared at him and said “I doubt very much that Prince Albert kept interrupting Queen Victoria by throwing Christmas cards across the table for her to sign while she was trying to write a panto review”. But you never know, I suppose, it could have happened. “Did India send us a card last year, Darling?”
Aanyway, my heart dropped through the floor when I realised that we were practically the only adults in the entire auditorium – there were three primary school parties there and the programme sellers were pale and quaking in their boots. However, we needn’t have worried – this is Richmond after all, and the little darlings were all incredibly quiet (and probably incredibly cold – who would send little boys to school in weather like this in shorts?) and impeccably well behaved and, perhaps, just kept that little bit too much in check by teachers because there was NO waving about of glow in the dark novelties, NO screaming and shouting and demanding to be taken home to watch CBeebees, NO throwing of sweet packets (although biodegradable cartons of healthy, vitamin-rich juice were handed out in the interval) and practically NO laughing or shouting out whatsoever, which in essence put a real damper on the performance. The script may not really have taken into account of the local demographic – I doubt very much that primary school children from Richmond have ever even heard of B&Q, Woolworths or EasyJet; afterwards I heard a snatch of conversation between one of the little darlings and their grandparents as they passed what to the uninitiated appeared to be a hairdressers; “Look Grannie!”, said little Tarquin, “that’s where Mummy gets her eyebrows plucked!”. Him Indoors pontificated afterwards that it was the lack of adults in the audience that made it so quiet – there was nobody there to snort at the double entendres. I did my best, but it was hard work. There was no “It’s behiiiiiiiind yooooooou!” sequence and only a very brief burst of “Oh yes it is/Oh no it isn’t” – maybe children in Richmond wouldn’t have understood that shouting out is actually ALLOWED at the panto. “Don’t shout, Jocasta, only common people do that”. We moved to a box very near the stage for the second half (very exciting for me - the first time I've been in a box. I've been in a cardboard box, but its not quite the same.....) rather reinforcing the Queen Victoria and Prince Albert image – although perhaps Waldorf and Stadtler might be a more appropriate one. By this time the laughs were coming thin and slow rather than thick and fast and there was more than a slight air of desperation about the entire performance – as we were so close I began to see a slightly haunted look appear in the eyes of a couple of the cast. Mind you, only a couple of the cast were really trying anyway – I have never seen panto performers work so hard to get an audience reaction as Tim Vine and Graham Hoadley. There was an awful lot of “phoning in” of performances by the younger members of the cast. Gareth Leighton’s Aladdin wasn’t wearing any makeup whatsoever and looked physically as pale as his performance. Jonathan Ellis’s Abanazer wasn’t nearly evil enough to register beyond the first couple of rows. I grant you that the role of the Chinese Policeman isn’t exactly on a par with Hamlet as regards possibilities for character development or motivation but I am sure that Yo Santhaveesuk could have given it a little more wellie than he did at yesterday’s performance. Rearrange the following words into a well know phrase or expression: The Going Motions Through. And he can’t sing either.
I don’t know whether to feel sorry for Suzanne Shaw or not. Although a complete micro-celebrity (ex member of Hear Say, Dancing on Ice and a bit of Emmerdale and that’s it), she is headlining in this panto and therefore probably getting paid more than anyone else in the entire cast. Mind you, she’s earning it – she has to double both the Slave of the Ring and the Genie of the Lamp, which I think is really, really cheap of the producers. There are even jokes about why the two Genies never appear on stage at the same time and why they look the same – which is just being arrogant about your stinginess. By the end of the performance she was letting the lack of audience reaction get to her big -time; you could see on her face that she really wasn't happy. Perhaps children from Richmond have never watched commercial TV and don't know who she is/was. Tim Vine works his socks off as WisheeWashee and I felt really sorry for him yesterday that he wasn’t getting anything like the reaction he deserved from a theatre full of slightly unnaturally well-behaved children. It was a bit like watching The Stepford Panto – he even threw in a couple of ad libs for the cast about how difficult it was getting any kind of reaction out of them. God help him he even had to have four of them up on the stage – this being Richmond they were called Mollie, Edwin, Archie and Benjamin – and I bet they were thrilled to go home afterwards with a plastic carrier bag stamped with the logo of the production company with a few cheap odds and ends in. “Its called a plastic bag, Archie darling. Poor people use them. We can give it to the au pair as a Christmas present”. Graham Hoadley was a fine Widow Twankey and I would have loved to have seen him spark off a more appreciative and interactive audience.
Costumes were great and had obviously had money spent on them, and there were lots of suitably sparkly backcloths (although I did wonder why The Cave of Wonders had a backdrop which had those pointy Siamese temple towers on and which looked more like “The King and I – Act one” than anything else). The Palace Garden set was particularly nice – pale blues and pinks and greys; you could do a lovely Mikado on that.
It all felt slightly sterile because of the lack of audience response. I hope they get less well-behaved audiences for the rest of the run.