Babes in the Wood and the Good Little Fairy Birds at the Players' Theatre, Charing Cross
A long time ago in a far off place, pantomimes used to be like this. Before they were hijacked by second-rate comedians and soap opera stars with a bit of spare time in their schedules, pantos were good, old-fashioned family fables with just a bit of crude innuendo and smidgen of satire thrown in for good measure.
Trust the Players' Theatre, then, to keep the flame alive. This Victorian throw back with all of its “Good Old Days” music hall paraphernalia has conjured up a great evening's entertainment and, while I m sure children would have a great time, many of the jokes are aimed at much more adult audience.
One thing panto is very definitely about is audience participation and master of ceremonies Dominic Le Foe doesn't miss a beat in revving up the audience with a communal sing-along and a little lewd banter before the house lights have even gone down. After 15 minutes of this, you may be wondering if the main event is ever going to kick off. But kick off it does - in full Scottish regalia, kilts an all. To question why none of the cast even tries an accent to match the costumes is pedantic. It doesn't matter. Everyone on stage is there to have a good time and draw the audience in.
The story doesn't really matter either but the general idea is that some suitably croney-like witches, who overindulge in their favourite pastime of mis-quoting Shakespeare, cast a spell on Sir Rowland Macassar (Robert Meadwell) and his wife Lady Beth (Eleanor McCready). This devilish spell causes the pair to conspire to kill their orphaned nephew and niece - and thus inherit the family fortune - but they haven't the nerve to personally do the dastardly deed. Enter some very bad looking bad guys to a round of hisses and boos from the audience. If it weren't for the timely intervention of the nauseatingly good Queen of Fairy Birds (Jo Napthine), then the poor wee lambs would be done in, there in the woods but….
You probably know the rest. The plot is implausible, the characters are caricatures and the dialogue is spiced up with some very predictable - as well as some very good - one-liners, mainly at the expense if the bard himself. It all ends with a good, old-fashioned, all-singing, all-dancing finale.
If, like me, Jim Davidson doing Buttons and Frank Bruno playing the fool, leaves you cold then do yourself a big favour, step back in time and see how good panto used to be.
Check out the Players' Home Page for more information on the play and venue.
David Dobson, December 1997