Easter panto is a relatively new concept which is growing in popularity, writes Anne Cox.
Dunstable’s Grove Theatre has been running them for three years. In 2014 it had Paul Daniels working his magic on audiences in Alice In Wonderland.
In keeping with the spellbinding theme we are being B*Witched this Easter with sizzling Irish singer Edele Lynch who stars in the swashbuckling adventure yarn The Pirates Of Treasure Island.
It’s a glossy production as good as any Christmas panto and it features a live band, a bevy of beautiful dancers, dazzling costumes, state-of-the art video backcloths and a cracking good cast.
While Christmas pantos stick to fairy stories the Easter shows mine a rich heritage of children’s literary tales and then add lots of comedy, singing and dancing.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s sea-going yarn features the infamous one-legged pirate Long John Silver, a parrot, and sword fights. Producers Magic Beans Pantomimes has then added a lot of slapstick.
It’s a spectacular family show that follows a traditional panto format. The highlight for me was the very clever, and highly original, super-soaker squirting sequence.
The cast came on in striped Victorian swimming costumes and flippers, lay on their backs in a paddling pool, and squirted water in the air, all choreographed to music.
The “Last Night At The Proms” finale to the scene saw beach balls - including one super-sized inflatable - hurled into the audience for a bit of a knockabout.
Director (producer, writer and, bizarrely, a two-legged Long John Silver) Jamie Wilson ought to consider lengthening play time and the number of giant balls, which, from experience watching Slava’s Snow Show, can happily keep an audience amused for at least 20 minutes.
Ant Payne as Silly Billy Bones keeps the fun flowing with a stream of hoary old jokes - but you’d expect nothing less in panto.
The show even boasts its own, much more subdued Dame, in Robert Pearce as Mrs Smollett who boasted that her costume included a Luton Town bra. “It has very little support and no cups” (huge groan from the audience).
One theatre-goer probably wished he’d gone to Kenilworth Road on Friday afternoon rather than take his family to Treasure Island.
Pony-tailed Rob, sitting in the stalls with his wife and kids, was picked on by both Billy Bones and Mrs S. Well - there always has to be one (and don’t we all breathe a sigh of relief when it’s not us?).
At the helm of the Hispaniola is the heroic dread-locked Captain Smollett who, in his civilian days is actor and CBeebies entertainer Sid Sloane (gosh, children’s TV hosts were never that dashing when I was growing up. We made do with Peter Purves).
Cabin boy/girl Jim/Jemima Hawkins (Lucy Reed making her third panto appearance at The Grove) has a treasure map and the help of a magical mermaid (Jasette Amos). She’s joined Smollett and his crew in hunting for the booty.
But making a less than serious attempt to stop them is Captain Grace O’Malley (Lynch) who treats her part like a guest appearance on Top Of The Pops. There’s some great dance routines and knockout songs but that’s it.
The Pirates Of Treasure Island is an entertaining, lively family show with something for everyone - a sexy Irish pirate who sings a bit; a courageous rapping, dancing captain; a plucky principal boy who can knock out a tune; and a comedy due to make us laugh.
There was also the additional bonus of 24 young local girls who successfully auditioned for roles in the dance ensemble and did a thoroughly professional job.
The only thing that let it down was the poor lighting which, at times, left the stars in the dark. Put a penny in the meter guys!
Give Easter panto a go. Running at the Grove Theatre until Sunday night.