Oh yes it is! The delights of the local pantomime shouldn't be overlooked. The Seagull Theatre in Lowestoft's Christmas 2015 offering is an excellent place to start.
|Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen...|
(Image copyright: Lowestoft Journal)
Pantos are a good cure for being un-festive, which I’ve been feeling due to illness and consequently missing several parties. I always enjoyed going with my niece Sian when she was little, to see the Christmas do at the Marina Theatre in the old home town of Lowestoft. The great thing about pantos is the extra layer of adult self-awareness in performances that children aren’t aware of; I’ll always fondly remember The Lowestoft Players trying to make each other laugh throughout their musical production of The Jungle Book. This year, Sian’s all growed up (16) and me, sister and mum had tickets to see The Seagull Theatre’s Maid Marion and Robin Hood, directed by Stacy Goddard, a choice not unrelated to Sian’s boyfriend Harry being in the cast.
Local theatre groups should have more support. The commitment and standard is always higher than people think, which is why I avoid the description ‘amateur’ – in my experience they’re anything but. An old fire station behind the Adult Education Centre in Crook Log, Bexleyheath, near where I live in South East London, has for several years been the intimate Edward Alderton Theatre, and this year I went and saw there a great stage adaptation of the ‘70s comedy Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. What’s particularly special about local theatre groups, which are mostly staffed by volunteers, is the positive sense of community from both back and front of stage, making you feel as if you’ve been invited to one big party. It was like that at the Alderton and it was the same at The Seagull: family members and friends alike were invited to perform through shout-outs from the stage, joining in a spirited rendition of ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’. Sian had to get up, be a pig and go ‘Oink’. I bet she killed Harry for that.
Like the BBC children’s series Maid Marion and Her Merry Men, the Seagull’s play is a post-feminist take on the Robin Hood legend. Marion (the lively Lola Matthews) is the real hero, the bright, feisty woman behind the self-involved and rather dim Robin (ingénue Imogen Osborn). But as with all the characters in panto, there’s redemption – yes, even for the Sheriff of Nottingham, brought to life via Stu Precious’s enjoyable moustachioed rotter, enthusiastically booed every time he appeared – especially for Robin, thanks to the touching and very mature moral that there are no heroes, just people who try their best. As is tradition, the big bonus for the Lincoln Green cowardy custard is that he gets the girl in a closing communal sing-song.
The Sheriff is last seen being fussed over by the show’s stand-out character, Nanny Nora Tittle Tattle. The panto dame, played hysterically by Nick Wright, is the embodiment of the fun self-awareness I mentioned earlier. Introducing herself, Nora trawled the auditorium singling out the grown up members of the audience. Remarking on a cardigan-wearing gentleman sitting behind me, s/he asked ‘Didn’t you know you were going out?’ and alighting on me, said ‘Nice shirt. Reminds me of some wallpaper I used to have.’ After the interval, Nora’s return to the stage was greeted with a half-hearted response that prompted the memorable comment, ‘Oh dear. You all spent too long in the bar, didn’t you?’ Then there was Ms Tittle Tattle christening a young man in the front row ‘Juan’, because he was the ‘Juan for me.’ Ker-tish!
Also worthy of singling out is Abi Watson as the Sheriff’s henchman Guy, in an effective comic duo with Flattery the Wonder Horse (Harley Butcher, projecting humour impressively through equine body language). All gangly limbs, goofy teeth and a disappointed slouch, she moved effortlessly through a variety of costume changes as a cowboy (a thumbs up for the use of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly theme), old fashioned copper and Sam Spade-style detective. It was no wonder everyone cheered when the put-upon Guy announced s/he was now one of the good guys, as well as no surprise to see in the programme that Abi has performed in everything from Blackadder Goes Forth to Anthony and Cleopatra. I love how you can discover actors in ‘amateur’ productions who are every bit as good as professionals.
Sian’s boyfriend Harry was one half of another comic duo, the imaginatively named prison guards Clink and Clank. Harry looks like he might have a promising career in management, as he slyly and amusingly delegated most of the rough stuff to Clink (the befuddled looking Jamie Gooch). Let’s just say that I think Harry will definitely be hired. Particularly if he can cope with someone breast feeding in the front row.
It’s a shame Maid Marion and Robin Hood finishes on Christmas Eve, as it’s full of exuberance, good will and an absolute bargain at a tenner. If I do manage to move back to the area next year, I look forward to watching The Seagull spread its wings even more.