Writer and Director: Peter Rowe
Musical Director: Ben Goddard
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
After cycling through its catalogue of seven stories twice, for its 15th Rock ‘n‘ Roll panto, The New Wolsey treads new ground with The Sword In The Stone, though its unlikely Arthurian scholars have ever referred to the ‘once and future King’ who will unite the kingdom as Sprout!
It’s a tale that fans of the BBC series Merlin will be familiar with – a young squire serving his knight becomes the King of England after pulling the magical sword Excalibur from a stone. Of course any good fairy story needs more twists than that and, in true panto style, we add in the evil witch Morgana Le Fay as counterpoint to Merlin, a dim-witted baddy, and a barely hidden secret love in Guinevere.
Add in Dame Bernadette (Berni) Broadbottom and nice-but-dim Sir Cedric Scuttlebutt and you have all the key elements for a panto.
When the cast are also accomplished actor-musicians and the score includes such numbers as Queen’s A Kind Of Magic, Take That’s Rule The World and even the Backstreet Boys, you’re set for the now traditional Rock ‘n’ Roll take on panto for which the Ipswich venue has become famous.
Purists may baulk at the thought and truthfully there are times when the panto concept does get lost in the fun. This is very much a show geared for family audiences but one that targets the parents and grandparents. While younger members of the audience will enjoy the tunes and capers, the musical choices are more old school than primary school. There’s elements of the traditional panto here – the Dame, the corny jokes, the outrageous costumes all present and correct – but the slap-stick has been dialled back and it turns into more of a musical comedy than a true pantomime.
Perhaps it’s a question of semantics, because whatever label is applied it’s good fun and expertly executed.
Sean Kingsley as Merlin takes on the traditional Good Fairy narrator rôle with aplomb and battles fiercely with Georgina White’s Morgana.
Long-serving Wolsey panto veteran Steve Simmonds elicits plenty of boos as the Norwich City team colour clad Mordred, and Graham Kent revels in picking on poor John in the audience (who turns out to be the surprising star turn of the evening).
Rob Falconer’s Kay provides plenty of comic material with the possibility that his impending crowning will result in King-Kay (think about it) antics, while Sandy Grigelis’ Sprout (Arthur) and Lucy Wells’ Guinevere have real chemistry while singing beautifully
Barney George’s multipurpose sets are vividly brought to life by Richard G Jones’ lively lighting and, while the pivotal drawing of the sword from the stone is somewhat of an anti-climax, other effects, including the mid-stage disappearance of Morgana and a beautifully conceived dragon, are more effective.
There’s still some pace to be picked up in this early stage of the run and the perennial problem of the Rock ‘n’ Roll panto format, exuberance sometimes overcoming lyrical clarity, does mar a couple of numbers but for sheer energy the cast can’t be faulted.
It may or may not be panto and those seeking the more traditional may be advised to book one of the myriad more conventional shows but, for entertainment value and a new take on a classic tale, this The Sword In The Stone is sure to pull.
Runs until 30 January 2016 | Image: Mike Kwasniak