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Saturday, 25 October 2014

Does Robert like pantos? Oh yes he does!

WE all know the joke by now. Robert doesn’t like pantos. Pantos don’t like Robert. But they’re going to have to learn to get along because local newspapers have a duty to fulfil.

And yes, I know; every year, Prudhoe’s Dragon Tale theatre group ends up charming said cynical hack.

But what about last week’s performance, which was a true, out-and-out mindbender?

In my preview, I’d carelessly assumed Alice in Wonderland would be a faithful rendition of Lewis Carroll’s classic work.

But this is panto world and, of course – silly me – complex wordplay isn’t anywhere near as likely to feature as crude innuendo, local in-jokes and costumes that would blind the audience were it not for the dipped lighting.

Anyway, in this version, Alice – played straight with an appropriate sweetness by Alanna Wilson – directs the action, but is not quite the central character in the way she is in the original.

Rather than an exploration of her perceptions, we have a chaotic tale centred on the future of Wonderland itself and on the forthcoming wedding of the Prince of Diamonds and Princess of Hearts.

Both, naturally, are threatened by a baddie – and oh, he’s as bad they come! The Knave wants to get his mitts on the girl and on a golden heart that, with a little charring, could banish happiness from the kingdom forever.

It probably says more about me than the performers that I liked the Knave the best, but actor Neil Wilkin is a gem.

Menacingly attired, and sporting a strangely threatening haircut, he sneered and jeered and cackled his way through an admirably polished performance.

Wilkin’s real talent lies in timing. He’s a master of the raised eyebrow. And when a few unfortunates arrived late, he teased them with second-to-none comic brilliance.

Speaking of which, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee (Ashley Punton and Vicki Hurst) put on such an amusing show they even made themselves laugh.

Their idiocy exploited by the evil knave, they were crucial to the plot’s impending doom, but it was the sight gags – particularly one involving ears blocked with cotton wool – that were pulled off so expertly.

For whatever reason, my mind has just jumped to the topic of crude jokes and here was where panto dame Dan Gowens really shone.

Goodness, he/she was something, with luminous hair, equally garish clothes, and the archetypal dame’s unbridled passion – God help the wizard she ended up with.

Other star performers included Gavin Younger and Wendy Neal, who played the King and Queen of Hearts, the latter of which was the dominant role.

Neal, who is also Dragon Tale’s producer, gave a particularly well-pitched performance, her eyes brimming with rage as she bellowed her violent refrain: “Off with his head!”

Throughout the evening, the music, singing and dancing were the best I’ve encountered with Dragon Tale, with any botched moves coming from the adults, while the youngsters were consistently dazzling.

The sets and costumes were suitably colourful, suitably strange and suitably inventive, with the Mad Hatter’s tea party being a notable visual treat.

They were also given a good showing by the lighting provided by John Robson, Cheryl Bainbridge and James Armatage.

So, yeah. There you have it. Another year, another success. A cynic once more converted.

Does Robert like pantos? Oh, yes he does. Unfortunately.

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