Well it’s almost Christmas and the silly season has started, and what better way to spend a couple of silly hours than at the Above the Stag theatre in Vauxhall at their yearly pantomime Treasure Island and the Curse of the Pearl Necklace?
Though this is the first of their pantos I have seen, over the six years since their first one in their old home in Victoria, they have played to sell-out audiences each year and it’s easy to see why. Definitely not the show for the family outing with mum, dad, grandma and the little ones, this is the show you creep out to enjoy with your mates.
I’ll have to confess pantomime is not really my thing. I usually go out of my way to avoid it, but maybe if they were more like this one I’d go more often. The script by Jon Bradfield and Martin Hopper abounds in witty one-liners that come so fast and furious it’s almost impossible to keep up. They have retained most of the pantomime traditions that we have grown up with, and the audience catches on quickly, shouting out “behind you”, “oh yes you are” and joining in the community singing with gusto.
Another of the panto traditions they have retained is the character of the dame, here in the guise of Jim Hawkins’s mother, Sally and Philip Lawrence gives quite the stand-out performance of the night. Whether it be delivering the naughty dialogue, joking with the audience or delivering the odd ad lib, he is the master (mistress?) of every situation, and frequently had us all in fits of laughter. Hugh O’Donnel as Ethel, the Merman (get it?), who acted as our narrator and guide, was equally hilarious, delivering all his lines with his tongue firmly lodged in one cheek. In a fairly large cast, though, absolutely no one let the side down.
In the past I have been known to criticise Andrew Beckett’s direction (in The Gay Naked Play and You Should Be So Lucky) but here he is obviously in his element. My problem in the other plays was that too much of the action was played out front, encouraging the cast to mug too much to the audience, but that is exactly what is required of pantomime, and here it works splendidly. Aside from a section at the beginning of the second act, which flags slightly, the swift-moving action holds one’s attention throughout and moves seamlessly from one scene to another.
One should also mention the superb set by David Shields and Daniel Johnson’s excellent musical direction.
If, like me, you can be a bit allergic to the usual Christmas fare, then this irreverent, naughty, adult orientated gay romp is definitely for you.
Treasure Island and the Curse of the Pearl Necklace plays until January 10 at Above the Stag and I’d advise you to book early, as it will no doubt sell out completely.