REVIEW: ‘Adventure In Pantoland’, St Stephen’s Players

ADVENTURE IN PANTOLAND: The principal cast of St Stepehen's Players' 60th anniversary production (S)
ADVENTURE IN PANTOLAND: The principal cast of St Stepehen's Players' 60th anniversary production (S)

I LOVE panto ... but six pantos in one night? That was the daunting challenge taken up by St Stephen’s Players for their 60th anniversary production “Adventure in Pantoland” – and what an adventure it was.

To put on just one panto is a difficult enough job in terms of logistics such as costume changes, sets and songs. So to take on six in one show must have been a dizzying experience for the cast and backstage staff.

We started in The Land of Make Believe where Fairy Honeysuckle, perfectly played by Tracey Graham, introduced us to the myriad stories that lay ahead.

And so the adventure began as the audience was whizzed through a series of scenes from panto favourites Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin, Dick Whittington, Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow White and finally Cinderella (some of the main characters are pictured right).

Shining bright throughout was the fantastic Ruth Davies, playing the principal boy character in each of the scenes and leading the way with her tremendous singing voice.

Ruth acted as if she enjoyed every minute and her bright smile and infectious enthusiasm must have really rubbed off on the younger members of the cast and chorus.

She was ably assisted by Victoria Wickington taking the principal girl parts.

But for every goodie there also has to be a baddie, and that role was swallowed up with aplomb by Jean Beeston in her guise as The Witch and Poison Ivy. Every villain needs a sidekick to carry out their wicked deeds and Tina Wolstenholme, playing Wizbad and Gertrude, revelled in the opportunity to put on a silly voice and dastardly pose. Such was the breadth of characters involved, Susan Tighe also played the villainous Queen Avarice.

I wondered whether this show might drag, being six tales in one, but director Linda Pounder, following a tight script from Alan Frayn, marshalled it superbly and the transitions were seamless.

I attended on the first night at a packed St Stephen’s Primary School, and naturally there were the odd mistakes but these were rectified by making light of them by the cast.

Indeed the vast majority of the laughs, or groans for panto jokes are usually awful, were generated by David Pounder playing the Panto Fool and Les Newcombe as the Dame.

David’s energetic performance had the audience in stitches at times and Les looked lovely in his dress and wig.

A good soundtrack can also make a big difference, and this panto had just the right combination of modern pop songs, which the young chorus danced perfectly in step to, as well as more traditional favourites.

Obviously, putting on six tales means they do become diluted somewhat, but it also means that just the dramatic scenes are included – Snow White’s poisoned apple and suchlike.

I have only made one foray into pantoland, in Sabden Village Folk’s production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs earlier this year, and seeing this made me want to take to the stage again.

Adventure in Pantoland is a fittingly ambitious production to mark the group’s 60th anniversary. The youngsters in the cast are predominantly pupils at the primary school and most of the adult members have links to either the school or church.

It has been a long and illustrious history for the group which has had various guises and produced plays and reviews, as well as pantos, over the years.

If this latest production is anything to go by, I would just raise a glass and says here’s to the next 60 years.

Adventure in Pantoland ends its run on Saturday in the school hall in Woodgrove Road and tickets can be booked by calling 01282 437565 or 830079.

DOMINIC COLLIS