‘Babes in the Wood’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by December 4, 2015

 

‘Babes in the Wood’ is one of the oldest and most loved children’s pantomimes. The Graduate Dramatic Society is at the comfortable Roleystone Theatre, 587 Brookton Highway, Roleystone presenting Stephen Quinn’s adaptation of the story, in the traditional style.

Stephen was brought up – even dragged up – in south London, taking an interest in theatre from a young age. He is one of WA’s leading directors covering many serious genres, and yet his pantomime scripts have all the madcap, dry, double-entendres of the much-loved, old style UK productions.

The two and a half hour performances commence at 8.00 pm on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights until the 19th December; there are also matinees at 2.00 pm on the Saturday afternoons.

 

The opening scene is a colourful village street, with a cottage centre stage. The proscenium arch and the side flats are beautifully painted, woodland scenery. Set design and construction by Jonathan Beckett, with set artwork by Rebecca MacKinlay.

 

      We join the villagers of a small hamlet near Nottingham as they celebrate at their summer fayre. The lively chorus enjoy their Maypole dancing (Choreographer Glynis Best), whilst the engaging and flamboyant, Dame Martha (Barry Park) and her talking, multitalented dog, Woofy (George O’Doherty) introduce us to the locals.

      There is Lady Marian (Sarah Courtis) who is the governess to Sir John’s children, Jane (Sienna Freeman) and Jeremy (Charlie Martin). Sir John’s wife vanished years ago, and sadly, now Sir John himself has disappeared. The evil Sherriff of Nottingham (Kerri Hilton) has the task of sorting out Sir John’s affairs and his Will, and the Sherriff has decreed that in the meanwhile the children should stay with their mercenary and miserable uncle, Sir Jasper (Grant Malcolm).

     When Jasper discovers that he will inherit all of his brother’s money if the children die, he hires two layabouts Abbott (Neale Paterson) and Gillard (Fiona Johnson) to take the children into the forest and kill them. Luckily, the fairy of the forest, Titania (Lis Hoffman) sees what is happening and sends two magical robins (Eliza Malcolm, Mercy Anthony) to guard them.

    Two of the villagers, the Old Crone (Lynda Butler) who works for Sir Jasper, and her friend Smith (Steele Fitzsimmons) hear from a poor girl, wearing a tattered dress, Rags (Neve Havercroft) of Jasper’s dastardly plan. Suspecting that Jasper and the Sherriff may be working together, they avoid the Sherriff’s guard (Glynis Best) and look for the help of the forest dweller, Robin Hood (Mel Kay).

    Soon Robin has gathered his Merry Men. There is Friar Tuck (Bill Connellan), the small but brave, Little John (Felix Malcolm), flour covered, Much the Miller (Sharon Malcolm), the musical, Alan a’ Dale (Sarah Callahan), the confused Will Scarlett (Julia Anthony) – or is he another scarlet? Their young helper, ‘the Kid’ (Hannah Horsley), accompanies them.

 

Director Stephen Lee obviously knows the true traditional pantos inside out. His hilarious script was cleverly written on two levels, one for the kids to appreciate and the other full of groan-worthy jokes for the broadminded parents. Stephen has obviously captured the respect of the cast, as they gave the show their all. Not for a second did even the youngest chorus member look bored or miss a cue, the cast was one strong unit.

A Dame to love and a nasty person for everyone to boo and hiss are essential; Barry Park’s ‘Dame’ was magnificent, immediately winning the affection of the audience. Grant Malcolm’s ‘nasty uncle’ was brilliantly conceived, with an eye patch – that changed sides throughout – a deformity, scruffy clothes and a weird walk – topped off with a booming rasping voice that invited numerous ‘boos’. Great teamwork.

Thigh-slapping Mel Kay, with her subtle costume ‘problems’ (a bow and quiver that never seemed to be in quite the correct place), was perceptive, subtle humour. Her singing, along with that of Sarah and Rags, was beautiful. One of the stars of the show was young Felix Malcolm, who could project his voice, change accents and act confidently – admirable. Likewise, the two ‘babes in the wood’ and Rags can be very proud; all three had great stage presence. It seems almost unfair to name some of the actors, as they ALL sang, danced and lived their parts wonderfully. There was even a brief slapstick piece, and some adventurous aerial work.

Stage manager Daniel Ramsell, assisted by ASM Rod Padget and a sizeable crew, were quick and efficient.

The lighting effects were very good, congrats to operator Jamie Cook and his Follow Spot operator Nina O’Doherty. Perhaps dim the lights when the set changes are taking place? The sound design by Ian O’Doherty is very good, with numerous ‘boom booms’ to emphasise the corny punchlines. The backing music (musical arranger Nick Choo) was at a sensible level for the cast to sing comfortably, without battling an ear-splitting band. Merri Ford and Maddy Connellan’s costumes were colourful and creative. Hideous outfits for the Dame, and beautiful for Marian. Woofy’s big black and white dog suit must have been crippling to wear, but George was still amazingly acrobatic.

A fun show for all of the family. Very clever, great to see the panto traditions being carried on with such finesse.