The views are in!
Mike Lewin (Audience Member)
Matt Friett took the director’s chair for the first time in this year’s panto, Little Red Riding Hood, and stamped his own mark on the production, casting youngsters Neve Prior and Fred McGahan in starring roles.
It might sound risky to place so much responsibility on ones so young, but on closer analysis it makes perfect sense: they embodied the “have-a-go” spirit of Panto, engaged well with the young audience, and will hopefully inspire a new generation of actors into the Riverside Youth Group. Both Neve (Little Red) and Fred (Little Boy Blue) did excellently, giving performances as confident and accomplished as any of the adults.
They were well supported by an experienced cast including Tony Fish, Lorraine Slipper, Kirstie McMillan and Ferne Haxby, all perfectly cast and giving strong performances. Jason Down was a fine wolf, channeling his inner “Hammer Horror baddie” persona that had served him so well as Dr. Prospero in 2016’s Return to the Forbidden Planet. His velvet smoking jacket was a perfect touch, and thankfully his lewd innuendos went over the youngsters’ heads!
Jack Barker, who put in a great performance last year as “Laughalot”, saw his dreams come true this time around as he got to pull on a frock and play the Queen. He is perfectly suited for Panto, poking fun at himself and bringing the whole audience along with him. I was disappointed that he didn’t get a solo dance number this year, but he at least performed a passable floss in a well – choreographed group number.
All the components that we expect from a good panto were there, and delivered with aplomb – from the sound balancing of the mics with the tight 7-piece band to the prompt changes of the well produced painted scenery. The Monty Python references, the bad puns (ham-bush), the community sing-along and of course the obligatory “it’s-behind-you”s and “oh-yes-it-is”es.
Friett did a good job of dragging a very traditional story into the 21st century, ensuring that both Red and Grandmother were agents in their own fate and not merely damsels to be rescued. And the stand-out moment of the night was Woodcutter James Lee’s performance of the iconic pop hit Wrecking Ball . As the spotlight came on and he ripped off his burly gear to reveal a silver hot pant jump suit, the whole audience, young and old, was in equal measures surprised, amused and entertained. His pouting and swooning was spot on, and by the time he’d leapt up onto the eponymous swinging ball the whole place was in stitches. It was a genius move, perfect both in conception and execution, and one that deserves to go down as one of the great moments inRiverside history.
Janice Redway (Assistant NODA Representative)
The Village Hall provides a well-appointed venue for Riverside Players and albeit tucked away, is by no means discreet in respect of performance. An almost full house was testament to the popularity of both pantomime as a tradition and Riverside Players themselves. A warm welcome was had from front of house but the foyer would have been `hotted` up by some representation of what we were about to see. Posters; photos; pull-up banner; cardboard cut-out or any other type of decoration would have set the scene as soon as you walked in. The programmes were very lively with action photos and way-out centre pages; great inclusion of the puzzles and colourful images. NODA also had a mention but always good for readers to have a little information on what NODA is about (extra marks if you want to enter the programme competition!)
Ferne Haxby [Grandma] who directed last years’ very successful pantomime, gave a sterling and natural performance throughout and looked just the part in her costumes – great wig! A professional performance and one, which was consistent, came from Jason Down [The Big Bad Wolf]. He was fascinating to watch, using subtle mannerisms and excellent clarity of speech. He offered good comic timing and his make-upwas excellent. Tony Fish [The Evil Wizard] epitomised evil with his attire and `sweeping` movements, striking a balance between really evil and not quite so evil. Neve Prior [Little Red Riding Hood] and Fred McGahan [Little Boy Blue] added the youth element and both played their parts well. Neve sung sweetly and Fred had good stage presence. Both principal girl and boy offered good diction but needed to slow their dialogue. They were suitably absorbed by their parts especially Fred, and pace will come with experience. Neve looked stunning in her red cloak but Fred needed more blue. Lorraine Slipper; Kirstie McMillan and Finn Prior [Pigs Ant, And, Dec] added the slap-stick dimension and they warmed in the second half, going from appearing a little awkward to settling into their roles with more purpose. They were the fun ingredients and Finn especially gave this physical comedy his all by offering style and bold gestures. The noses were very effective and the costumes visually stimulating. Jack Barker [Queen Finger] and Harry Lee [King Thumb] were true to their names and well-cast, as were all the performers. Jack did well to try and maintain a high-pitched voice, which did at times, lapse into baritone. More exaggerated make-up, a pristine wig and a full skirt would have enhanced his untidy look. James Lee [The Woodcutter] played a convincing role with clarity of speech. A great voice, rich and clear. His solo in the second half showcased his versatility with some emotional moments coupled with humour. He used the `negative` space well. Heidi Phillpott [choreographer] did a good job moving the cast and the Dancers especially, were in sync. with their routines which blended with the story-line but their moves needed more feeling and positivity.
Amongst the `Oh yes he is` and `Booing` moments which suitably `peppered` the show, there were gems, like `Who Will Buy`; `Sisters Are Doing It By Themselves`; the ball and chain, which surprised; the turtle which amused; the bucket over the head; the clever play on words and the alternative Jenga which delighted the audience, especially when the boxes were miss aimed.
The musicians were in harmony with the actors and produced some good incidental music, which also helped those struggling with ad-libbing during some of the scene changes. They all managed to `pull-it-off` however and some of the audience vocalised their appreciation.
It was obvious that all involved had really worked hard and the camaraderie on stage showed. It was a lovely touch to address the audience with poetry at the end, against the backdrop of a moving windmill sail. It is always good to have the opportunity to speak to the Director and being introduced to the Musical Director and Choreographer was appreciated. Congratulations go to Matt for his debut in both the writing and directing and to all involved who gave everyone a fun and pleasant evening.