Writer and Director: Esther Simpson
The anarchic prerogative, indeed, primal satisfaction of Panto is to celebrate the naughty-dog-trope of piddling up against the presumptuous papier-mâché theatrical pretentiousness of the ‘fourth-wall.’ But, its bark has to be as incisive as its bite.
Now thirty years ongoing, Open Theatre’s laudable legacy of embracing the inclusivity of both able and learning-challenged young people is beyond question. This production, reprising their eponymous, very successful regional 2018 regional tour, however, exposes lost opportunities to lend new vim and vigour in writing, direction and productional pace, more often than not, falling between uncomfortably recurrent one-legged, wobbly narrative stools. Indisputably, Shrek set the bench-mark for any subsequent aspirations towards subverting the conventions of fairy-tale stereotypes.
The affected, flustered banter between worsted-suited ‘straight-man’ Storyteller (Nicky Priest, surely Jack Dee’s abandoned love-child?*) and accomplished multi-sound-effects/musician – ‘I have a song for any occasion’ – Mockingbird, (Charles Graggs), resplendent in Mohican-Punk coxcomb, clunks more than it clicks.
So many opportunities to grab the Pantomime cow by its fun-horns and milk its udderly silly call are left both waiting and wanting. Audiences, especially of the youngest, need inducting in this most precious of theatrical traditions. Time to ruffle a few feathers with an embracing blast of Panto-cow flatulence. Post-show reflections and settling of first-night nerves ought surely to resolve these niggles.
Vicki Taylor’s ‘Duck’ remains engagingly endearing with her prompt-cards wind-ups and slap-schtick plot teases. Rishard Beckett, an actorly-named chap if ever one, is sympathetically attuned and directed in his role as Hansel playing foil to the effervescent ingenuity of Jessica Rowe’s Gretel. The modular ‘Amazon’ packing-box set-design is ingeniously reimagined for diverse needs, but here again, during transitions, opportunity knocks for a few ad-lib distraction gags. With the punch and publicity power of The Hippodrome together with its numerous supporters and sponsors, this production, once fine-tuned, has Edinburgh Fringe fliers already bristling in the Royal Mile breeze.
Open Theatre, in association with the Hippodrome, has ambitious future plans for a ‘Twisted Tales’ reimagined synthesis of The Elves and The Shoemaker/Puss In Boots – a Grimm opportunity to make a right cobblers of things – in the nicest, most creative, inclusive and celebratory way they only know how – of course.
Runs until 15 February 2020