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South East
posted/updated: 20 Feb 2016 -
Alan Frayn
society/company: Gillingham Dramatic Society (directory)
performance date: 19 Feb 2016
venue: The Brook Theatre, 5 The Brook, Chatham ME4 4SE
reviewer/s: Susan Elkin (Sardines review)

It’s surprisingly refreshing to see a pantomime in February when the memory of the pre-Christmas round of dozens of them has begun to fade. And this one is quite fresh anyway because with script by Alan P Frayn there are some original script elements and sparky jokes I’ve never heard before such the pun about a potato clock which helps you get up at eight o’clock (say it aloud, slowly) or the series of horse gags.

GDS Productions is a company with many strengths although it’s a pity they don’t seem to be able to attract more male cast members. Lewis Matthews, as Buttons, is a great asset though. He knows how to work the audience, is a convincing actor with well developed timing and sings beautifully. Even his dancing, often an Achilles heel, is passable. Gerald Flanagan and John Endicott have fun as the (very) ugly sisters and they too are pretty adept at teasing the audience.

Millie Longhurst and Amy Allen as Cinderella and Prince Charming are both fine singers who handle harmony well and they look good. Longhurst is a pleasing actor too. Allen and Nicole Gillespie as Dandini are both a bit hammy but then it’s difficult to play principal boy and side kick realistically.

Rachel Ann Crane, a former professional, is – as ever – a show stealer as Baroness Hardup. Her fine singing is in a different league from everyone almost everyone else in the cast. A statuesque figure, she dominates the stage physically too but that works well in her casting as the bossy, money-grabbing mother to the ugly sisters.

There are some strange decisions in this show, however. Debbie Brennan is, frankly, a pretty lacklustre Fairy Godmother. Then she sings and it’s utterly electrifying. So why does she get only one number? If you have someone in the cast who can sing as well as she can then it would make sense to use that skill as much as possible rather than wasting her in a role which is mostly acting.

Jeni Boyns and Emma Hodge are entertaining as Bodget and Legget who are planning to redevelop Hardup Hall but much of their humour sails over the heads of children and their scenes feel like stand alone, arguably expendable, extra bits.

The slosh scene is disappointing. If you’re going to include one then you need a mess but there isn’t any.

And the limitations of the stage left, exit steps in the Brook mean that it’s difficult to make quick, ensemble entrances and exits when you have a large group of quite small children. Perhaps it would have been wiser to contrive fewer of these traipsings on and off.

On the other hand, once they’re on, the youth chorus and the juvenile chorus are all a very well drilled asset and a credit to whoever coached them.

Another great strength is the fine four piece life band positioned in the auditorium on the left of the front rows of the audience. I was so close I could almost read the music over leader Pater Bailey’s shoulder. It makes for an immersive atmosphere and suits the venue well.

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