Opening night of any show is perhaps not the best time to write a review, as surely it has yet to iron out the wrinkles and get fully into its stride? However, this is Leighton Buzzard Drama Group, the masters of pantomime and such considerations really don’t apply. With apologies for the mixed metaphors, they know how to hit the ground running with all guns blazing.
Pantomime is all about the visual and this set by Mike Ward with incredible set painting by Carl Russell was certainly that. Wonderful back cloths, with bright vibrant colours to compliment them and what a fantastic treat we had with the Dwarfs cottage, quirky and quaint and so well thought out. The mirror, which dominated the Wicked Queen’s boudoir had a wonderful ornate painted surround and apart from when the blacks kept covering it up was very effective.
The lighting deserves a special mention as Dave Miles had really gone to town on this. Rarely do you see every corner of a stage fully lit, but here, from proscenium to proscenium the even lighting flooded all parts, which so enhanced the overall visual effect making the whole set a feast for the eyes.
Add to that a costume bonanza of the richest order and you have an almost perfect setting. Ann Kempster, Ann Mathews and Sheena Ward certainly had a field day, from the elegant costumes of the Fairy and the Wicked Queen, Snow White’s instantly recognisable dress, the very clever full rainbow effect of the Seven Dwarfs, not to forget of course the OTT Dame’s and Chuckles outfits and my favourite costume of all, the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ style scarab of Justice Quill. A lot of thought went into every one of them.
Little fault could be found with the sound by Tom Davis either, crystal clear and not a mic that caused a single moment of feedback or incorrect volume. Amazing for a first night!
Talking of sound, the safe hands of Musical Director Paul Daggett on Keyboards, with Pete Bellamy on Bass and Rob Regan on Drums provided the top notch three-piece band, which from the overture onwards immediately warmed the audience, created an air of expectation and built the atmosphere. We were in for a treat!
And the icing on the cake, the choreography by Rachel Long! Teaching amateurs, who by definition usually have two left feet, to be in time is an art form in its own right. Add some complicated hand moments and you really are setting yourself a task. But this was outstandingly good and she even managed to avoid the facial bear trap and kept her dancers smiling throughout. Broad grins and white teeth predominated, which as any pro will tell you helps hide any feet out of place. Brilliant!
Gemma Aguilar, now making a habit of title roles was a super Snow White with a very complimentary performance by the excellent Hannah Rourke as her Prince Ferdinand. Lucy Dudley glided magically on to the stage as Fairy Fortune and held us spellbound, whilst Trish Turner as the wicked step mother, Queen Avarice in her first ever pantomime put in what could arguably be the standout performance of the night. She commanded the stage and without question the audience as well, with some very quick witted retorts to the heckling, frequently stirring it up and giving as good as any experienced ‘dame’ would have done. I particularly enjoyed the sneering “Are you booing? – I can’t hear you”
Saskia McShane as Chuckles, our ‘Buttons’ character and John Stone as our Dame, ‘Ed-in-a Bucket, er sorry, I mean ‘Edina Bouquet,’ played off each other and the audience were in top notch form too. We got all the usual moans, groans, double entendre jokes and laughs delivered with high octane energy and great confidence. I particularly welcome the variations on ‘Oh yes it is, oh no it isn’t’, I don’t know if that was Frayn’s script or added by the director, but whichever way, what a refreshing change to an old favourite. Loved it!
Tony White brought a wealth of experience and comic timing to his role as Merlin behind the mirror, (that fantastic beard must have been at least six inches away from his face!) whilst Rob Taylor as Justice Quill and Andy Ferguson as his sidekick Scribbles provided us with our splendid secondary set of slapstick jokes and quips. And not to forget Mark Croft as Slurp, comically played tongue in cheek in Quasimodo style (without the hump!), even changing which leg had the limp to suit his exits and entrances and remarked on by The Queen – very funny!
Finally we come to our splendid dwarfs, Emma Stone (Blushful), Lauren Waters (Brainy), Louis Cross (Dozy), Emma Cooke (Grumbly), Jo Taylor (Sleepy), Heather Brodie (Smiley) and our top notch Choreographer, Rachel Long as Sniffle. This was a well-rehearsed, well drilled outfit that used the stage to maximum effect. Their movement and dance was a particular highlight! And as for those wonderful beards – superb!
I think I can say without much fear of contradiction that director Kim Aguilar has pretty much got this art form nailed at only her second attempt. The pace never dropped, the scrip by Alan P Frayn was funny, the adlibs worked well and the Thursday evening (almost full house) audience were fully engaged. It is easy to see why LBDG have little trouble in selling out over a three-week run with productions of this quality.
Did we have a have a good time? Yes, yes, yes, we blinking well did!
Many thanks for your always warm welcome and splendid hospitality. Break a leg for the rest of the run.