They like to put a spin on their pantomimes in Norwich nowadays. Richard Gauntlett – who knows all about these things – has written the script (to which most of the actors on stage adhere) and also plays Nurse Peggy Pickle (you don’t want to be on her round of home visits). Carabosse in this variation is the evil Queen Bracken (Helen Fraser) and the good-fairy influence is transmuted into court inventor and adviser Leonardo (David Gant).
It is Leonardo who sets the scene for us as he sits comfortably in his armchair high above stage level. The king and queen of Utopia have been killed in Bracken’s take-over; their baby daughter Hope (Hayley Tamaddon) has been brought up in hiding by the Pickles. She has only a talisman stone for legacy– cue excellent laser effects throughout – and Bracken must find her and negate the powers in the stone before Hope reaches her 18th birthday. As the story opens, that’s the very next day.
Evil queens need henchmen to do their wicked bidding. Bracken has a dangerous dog in the lanky and furry shape of Tom Beard’s Rumbole (all floppy ears and inane grin) and a whole kennel of mischievous puppies. The main action is set in the 1870s (time shift to the Swinging Seventies for the awakening) which allows for some attractive costumes of both eras. The actual settings are simple enough, which permits special effects such as the thorn forest and the bier from which Hope arises like a vision to encourage her deliverers.
Kevin Sacre as a be-spectacled student Prince Valiant has a fine singing voice and a likeable personality. He duets very well with Tamaddon, whose stage persona is perhaps not yet quite secure – she was “thrown” by some of André Vincent’s ad-libs as Muddles, her adoptive brother. Vincent is the sort of performer who needs players able to match him; Gant and Gauntlett are more than equal to this task. And you’d have to go far to meet a villainess to equal Fraser, whether swishing her satin skirts through her take-over castle or disguised as the National Board school inspector from hell.