Robinson Crusoe and the Pirates by the Leighton Buzzard Drama Group
8th – 24th January, 2015
Reviewed by Stewart Carr, Leighton Buzzard Observer

With an ‘arr’, an ‘ahoy’, and perhaps a ‘shiver me timbers’, delivered in a West Country burr, it’s not so hard to bring the pirate world to the stage, is it me laddies?

But with Leighton BuzzardDrama Group’s boundless enthusiasm you can expect the full Carmen Miranda treatment in its brilliant New Year’s pantomime, Robinson Crusoe and the Pirates.

Being a grown-up, I don’t think I’ve laughed as much watching panto in a long while. And I think it may have something to do with its zany array of characters. It might not be a fairytale as such, but with brave hero Robinson, fair damsel Juanita and wicked villain, the pirate CutThroat, it’s got all the ingredients for a magical show perfect to brighten up those January blues. Speaking of blue, who can forget the outrageous, banana hat-wearing pantomime dame, whose name alone is worth a mention – Margarita Juicelita?

And then there’s her son Nutty Nick, whose bag of nuts everyone wants but they just can’t have. Oh no they can’t! And opening the show is the beautiful ocean fairy Coral, a sort of Glinda the Good Witch, who steers the heroes away from the watery depths of the sea when things get really bad. My favourite was the comedy duo, Skullduggery and Crossbones, two bungling female pirates as dopey as they are mean. Like true stooges, they are duped into serving the wicked Cut Throat who promises to pay them five times as much they are currently earning. “We’re gonna be rich!” they shriek, not realising that five times nothing is precisely… never mind. With its quick one-liners, samba dancing, and gorgeous costumes and set, it’s a fun-filled night for all the family.
Review by Keith Pendall NODA Representative. District 2.

A very happy and convivial atmosphere was apparent as we walked into the theatre on Saturday evening. Although it was late in the panto season the packed audience were clearly ready to have a really good time. Plenty of flashing swords, eye patches etc. were on show which helped to put the audience in the pantomime mood.

The stage was well set up using colourful cloths and props and I thought the stage was an ideal size for pantomime. A very good band was assembled, not only did they play very well; they also had lots of banter and rapport with the onstage cast. There were some strong characterisations that entered into the spirit of things with enthusiasm and gusto.

Russell Bennett was excellent as Nutty Nick and he had the audience on his side right from the start. I liked the kitchen scene which he performed with Bob Jones as his “Mother”, but I thought more could have been made of this.

Jo Taylor was cast well as “Principal boy” Robinson, plenty of thigh slapping and manly stances; she also had a good command of the stage in all of her scenes. Principal girl “Juanita” played by Saskia McShane gave a convincing performance, a very pretty young lady with a very pleasant voice. I have to say I wasn’t sure about using the song “Let it go”. I understand this is a very popular song, but not sure of the relevance of a song from “Frozen” with lyrics “The cold never bothered me anyway” when the panto took place in Rio. Whilst on the subject of songs, what I did think good, the group did not fall into the trap of making the songs too long. Each one used just the right amount of content, not allowing the children in the audience to get bored with love duets etc that went on and on. So congrats to the MD for recognising this.

Two of the strongest performances in my opinion came from Lainy Ward and Urmala Meadows as the two pirates, “Cross-bones” and “Skull-duggery”. They had excellent Panto style, bringing the audience in at every opportunity, and both had very good comic timing.

Others worthy of a mention were John Stone as” Cut throat” a good strong panto villain who have great delivery and projection. I also thought that Ben Clarke as the Witchdoctor “Hocus Pocus” moved very well and reminded me of the Bond villain in “Live and let die”. He also had excellent make up.

Every panto needs its father figure, Baron Hardup, The King in “Sleeping Beauty” etc. In this instance it was “Captain Smee Seasalt”. These parts are not the easiest in pantomime as they rarely get the big laughs, and often carry the storyline through. Tony White played his role with ease, and delivered his lines with confidence and a good pace.

There were plenty of colourful costumes throughout and some very good scenery especially the “Stone Idol” in Act 2.

All in all “Robinson Crusoe and the Pirates” rounded off the panto season nicely, and a good time was had by all. I look forward to seeing what next year may bring.