by Laura Kressly
The lights dangling over the audience in the intimate pub garden theatre look rather like anal beads. It’s a great choice by lighting designer Richard Lambert because they suit the joyously raunchy tone of this adult panto in Vauxhall, or rather, the charming mountain village Vaüxhallen. The town’s residents we meet over the two hour-long show are all out for some action and adventure – in every sense of the word.
There’s a touch of the Snow White story in that there’s a magic mirror used by a baddie, but the plot is largely removed from the Disney tale that most audience members will know. Though there’s no evil queen like the show’s marketing image suggest, the more original story has freedom to own its own narrative. However, writer Gareth Joyner sticks closely to panto’s narrative structure. We see the evil Demon Frostbite (the spidery, mohawked Nathan Taylor) on a quest to enslave and bewitch charming pub landlady Dame Herda Gerda (a cheerfully cheeky, be-muffed Dereck Walker). Meanwhile principal boy Garbo (Shelley Rivers) wants to marry Greta (Bessy Ewa), but her father Berermeister Kai (Tom Keeling) wants her to marry a rich man. They are all accompanied by a sidekick snowman (James Lowrie) and overseen by Kingsley Morton as Fairy Snowflake.
The cast of seven are tightly blocked and choreographed, adept at dealing with hecklers and fill the chilly garden with heaps of energy. However, they feel too crowded when the entire company is on stage; being able to freely move and embody the staging without worrying about bumping into each other would have made it a touch more polished and pacey. This is a minor flaw, though.
Though the typical innuendo that’s present in an all-ages panto is made more explicit and sweary, it still has a dramaturgically traditional script. There’s the core of archetypical characters, contemporary pop songs, drag, sweet throwing, and audience interaction amongst other things. Whilst it’s not structurally radical, it is comforting to lean on tradition a bit in the face of the pandemic and upcoming Brexit uncertainty. After a month in lockdown, laughing at a story with a group of strangers – no matter how silly that story is – feels good.
That’s not to say that under normal circumstances this production wouldn’t receive praise. The script is particularly commendable given that Joyner has ensured that even the most trope-y of gags and devices are contextualised within the narrative. The jokes are dirtier and more queer than a child-friendly show would be, but sex supports the story rather than the other way around. The performances are excellent, with no weak link – though the sound wasn’t always as balanced as it could be.
Despite the show only having a week’s run and now closed due to London’s descent into Tier 3, it deserves recognition. This is just the stuff needed to stand out from the typical vast choice in pantos.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.