I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m a big fan of panto.
Oh yes you are! I hear you cry.
Well, maybe I thought I wasn’t…
It’s been some time since I was last at a panto, and I had forgotten the sheer delight and excitement that comes from an untypically young theatre audience once the music starts.
This year’s Garrison Theatre pantomime Peter Pan, from the Open Door Drama Group, truly was a visual, musical, comical feast. Directed by Izzy Swanson, the fast paced, crazy, funny show had the audience captured as soon as the musicians (Carol Jamieson, David Marsh and Siobhan McGregor) started up. A medley of well-recognised and much-loved songs from musicals such as Mary Poppins set the scene perfectly before the action began.
Directing a cast of this scale and experience must have been no mean feat. The four young Chorus Girls (Ashleigh Calderwood, Ava Smith, Rowan Freshwater and Teagan Freshwater) to the older adult cast members made for a busy, bustling cast that switched between pirates, warrior maidens and lost boys.
Following many of the traditional story elements of the original Peter Pan, this pantomime version incorporated a number of humorous and clever one-liners and musical numbers. From jokes about the old Anderson Institute to a Taylor Swift pop song, the story remained true to its roots while giving the audience something to chuckle over and sing along to.
Hermione Boyes as Peter Pan did a splendid job, showing off an array of talents that ran far beyond just acting a part – from singing a solo to raising the audience’s participation with confidence and charm, she showed that she has amazing versatility for an actor of her age.
Grace Anderson played Wendy Darling with the right mix of sweet innocence and pantomime horror at the antics of the wicked Captain Hook and his counterparts. Abbie Galbraith brought a new sassy freshness to playing Tinkerbell who, rather than skipping around in a bright green floaty dress, slunk around with in plaid leggings, a funky skirt and a light-up denim jacket. While having no lines, her deliberately tempestuous character relied on the tinkling percussion from the musicians and a strong stage presence.
John Haswell, as Captain Hook – the most villainous pirate of them all – was a fantastic mix of comic action and snivelling misery. Prowling around the stage and interacting with the audience, Haswell kept the wit and villainy alive. A sudden rendition of a Spice Girls number, while being a complete surprise, was well-received by a delighted audience that sang along and laughed as he told his fellow buccaneers and the audience what he really, really wants.
However, the show was surely stolen by the hilarious Big Jessie, played by Robert Lowes, and Smee, played by Iain Souter. Big Jessie, on a quest to find the children who had gone missing in her care, happened upon the ruddy-faced sidekick to Hook and took a fancy to him. The comic chasing on stage between scenes kept the audience in stitches; Smee, less than enamoured with Big Jessie’s advances, jittered at her presence, keeping everyone entertained.
Of course, a panto wouldn’t be a panto without a good dose of He’s behind yous and other such interaction. While it seemed the audience missed a trick or two with perfect opportunities to pipe up over what was happening on stage, there was still plenty of laughter, singing and contributing from the excited audience.
Some of the cast members rallied the audience to chime in louder and louder (cue screaming children), and the invitation for three thrilled-looking young audience members to go up on stage went down a treat. Of course, as soon as you start to involve an audience, anything might happen, but the cast handled the more impromptu contributions from the audience with wit and good form.
Do I love panto now? Well maybe the jury’s still out on that… However, I do love seeing Shetland’s youth actively engaged and involved with community theatre and I do love seeing a community theatre packed with an excited and expectant audience. I love seeing laughter and wit and I love that Shetland has such an energetic, lively and fun theatrical cast to break up a cold, dark wintry evening – bravo Open Door for pulling out all the stops.
The panto is on daily until Saturday 16 December. There are still some tickets avalaible via the Shetland Box Office.
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