ATLANTIS, THE PANTO by Paul Reakes
St Peter's Players
Wolvercote Village Hall, Wolvercote Green, Wolvercote, Oxford, OX2 8BD
5-8 December 2018
St Peter's Players served up an enjoyable evening of fun with this rather different take on the traditional panto.
The evil sorceress Surpia (Yvonne Janacek) arrives in the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, imprisons its King (Nancy Hillelson) and Queen (Jane Hemmings) and takes power for herself. However, The king and queen's baby daughter Princess Coral has been whisked away to safety by her nursemaid, escaping the evil clutches of Surpia, who vows to track her down, however long it takes.
It is twenty years later, and we are in the Cornish fishing village of Portaloo. The Princess Coral, we learn, was rescued by mermaids and adopted by local widow Florrie Flotsam (Richard Gledhill in fine dame form) and is now a beautiful young woman (Charley Middleton). She knows nothing of her true parents and believes she is plain Faye Flotsam. Enter Lord Valentine (Zehra Kelly) who sees 'Faye' and falls in love with her. However, the evil Surpia discovers that Faye is really Princess Coral and spirits her away as a prisoner to her secret lair in Atlantis. Lord Valentine sets sail to rescue her, accompanied by Florrie Flotsam, her hapless son Frankie Flotsam (David Smith) and his girlfriend Lilly (Mary Drennan). After many adventures, all ends well with Surpia meeting her much deserved end at the hands (or tentacles) of the Kraken that she has summoned up to devour her enemies. Lord Valentine weds the princess and all live happily ever after.
This was a production that caused much mirth for the audience and was good clean fun (with a few double entendres thrown in for the grown-ups to get). There was a magnificent chorus of young children who sang and danced really well, better in fact than most of the adults! I particularly enjoyed their rendition of 'Portaloo' (to the tune of Abba's 'Waterloo').
Yvonne Janacek was suitably evil and hammy as the sorceress Surpia and interacted with the audience nicely (if that's the right word). She was assisted by her sidekick Croak, half-man, half-frog, played with suitable sliminess by Isaac Alcock. Richard Gledhill was a world-weary, sardonic dame as Florrie Flotsam, bantering with the audience. His performance reminded me of the late, great Roy Barraclough. David Smith was stretching his playing age range somewhat (!) as her gormless son Frankie, but with his mum being played by a bloke, I'm not sure that even counts as a criticism. David struck up a lovely double-act with Mary Drennan as his girlfriend Lilly. Shades here of Kevin the Teenager and Perry. A great cameo role from Sean Hazell as Captain Capstan, Lord Valentine's skipper. With a Cornish accent that was so thick sometimes, that you could barely understand what he said (neither could some of the other characters), and good comic timing, Sean turned this into a bigger role than you might have expected. Charley Middleton was the suitably damsel-in-distress princess. Charley had by far the best singing voice of the cast and it was a pleasure to listen to her during the musical numbers. Zehra Kelly made a dashing Lord Valentine, but could, perhaps, have brought a little more feeling of gung-ho and derring-do to the part. I think she slapped her thigh but once during the whole show. Tony Bywaters played Zardoc, the king and queen's mystical magician, wearing a long blond wig and a permanently serious, thoughtful expression. Tony's character bore a remarkable resemblance to Neil from 'The Young Ones'. Finally, Jane Hemmings and Nancy Hillelson were suitably regal and distressed parents as the Queen and King of Atlantis. I especially liked Nancy's beard that had a touch of the Mesopotamian or ancient Persian about it.
Mention must be made of the brilliant scene on the seabed. Top marks to director Clare Winterbottom for this imaginative section in which not a word was spoken, and the scenery and staging were superb. The stage was lit by ultraviolet light, which made everything luminous. Members of the chorus were sea creatures from the bottom of the ocean. They wore black umbrellas on their heads from which were hung long streamers in fluorescent colours that glowed in the ultraviolet light, and which were gently twirled around. Fish, also glowing, swam by. The backdrop was painted to resemble sea weed in fluorescent yellows, purples, red and whites. Then the lights came up and and the principal characters appeared, wearing deep-sea divers' helmets. All communication between them was mimed, in slow motion, of course, as befitted the weightless environment. Young members of the chorus Joe and Sam Churchill Stone deserve mention as Surpia's sharks, Snip and Snap, who chased Frankie, Lilly and Florrie round the seabed.
The Kraken, at the end of the play, was a wonderful comic creation. Three long tentacles, reaching from out of the wings, grabbed Florrie, Frankie and Lilly, and eventually did for Surpia. It's amazing what you can do with a length of elephant tubing and lick of paint, plus some hammed up, over-the-top performances from the players!
So well done to everyone, but one constructive criticism. With the notable exception of Charley Middleton's princess, none of the principals had loud singing voices. This meant that it was difficult to hear them above the band. I am generally not a fan of microphones, but this would have been one occasion when wiring the actors for sound would have enhanced our experience. By contrast, the children sang loud and clear.
Well done to all concerned for an enjoyable evening out, with much silliness to go round.
About the Author
Mike Lord has been involved with amateur theatre for over twenty years, mainly as an actor but also, more recently, as a director.
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