“It’s behind us!”
“Oh yes, it is!!”
This year’s Maidenhead Pantomime has come and gone, but what a ride it was! Every one of the seven performances crammed into just five days last week was a complete sell-out, and the cast delighted a theatre packed with adults, children, local groups, families and dignitaries every time the curtains opened.
You all know the story of Aladdin: you have a poor (but honest) boy whose mother runs the local laundry and who dares to fall in love with the beautiful daughter of the King of China. You have the wicked Abanaazer, looking for a way to get his hands on a fabled magic lamp, whose resident Genie will grant the owner whatever he desires. And you have the obligatory happy ending, where Abanaazer gets his come-uppance and Aladdin gets his girl.
But with Panto, the actual plot is only a small part of the adventure. It’s all about the fun, the excitement, the women pretending to be men, the men pretending to be women, the music, the colour, the dancing, the laughter – in fact, the best Pantomimes are not performances, they are experiences. And this year’s Maidenhead Drama Guild offering was no different.
So let’s break it down, shall we?
Aladdin (the principal boy played by a girl, in this case the wonderful Beth Cawte) cut a dash as the honest but lazy washer-woman’s son. Beth had more solo songs than anyone else, and delivered them with confidence and joy. Princess So-Shy (beautifully played by Stacy Rhodes) was perfect as the slightly dippy, slightly giggly young Princess. Abanaazer was given an East End makeover by James Taylor, channeling both Ray Winstone and Ming The Merciless and becoming thoroughly despised by the very vocal audience whenever he appeared. And Widow Twanky (or – to give her full name – Ninky-Nanky Long-and-Lanky Cross-and-Cranky Thick-as-Planky Twanky) showed just how ridiculous a tall stocky bloke (in this case, Robin Lovell) can look and sound when supplied with a very lairy dress, a sizeable set of fake breasts, a high pitched voice, and enough slap to stock a major branch of Boots. Much of the interaction between Twanky and Wishee-Washee (Rose Hasyldirim) lapses into slapstick and glee at the drop of an un-ironed hat. Add the two comedy side-kicks Mustapha and Ali (Rob Harris and Zoe Roberts) and the stage is nearly set.
But whilst these actors had the bulk of the lines, the panto wouldn’t have been a success without the efforts of all the ‘unsung heroes’ – the minor characters of Ding-dong, the King, The Grand Vizier, the Slaves of the Lamp and the Ring, and of course the chorus – including my daughters Ellie and Annabel in their first ever appearance. Whether they are villagers, palace ladies, dancers, singers – panto needs big performances with pizzazz, and you need the chorus to be on top form. Boy, were they!
The music, the sets, the costumes, the UV scene with the dragon in the cave, and everyone involved with sound, lighting, set-shifting, props – everybody stepped up to the mark, and everybody deserved the cheers and applause they received each night.
One special word must be added for the bloke who pretty much went unnoticed during the run – Simon Kelly, the Director this year. Simon’s strength is in treating this amateur group like a team of professionals, and expecting the same level of commitment. By that measure, he delivered in bucket-loads.
Well done MDG – here’s to next year!