So, does the Everyman Rock n’ Roll Panto tick all the right boxes this year? I haven’t been for some time but it all still seems present and correct: feisty heroine; wicked witch type villainess; incredibly dumb henchmen; randy Panto Dame; unfortunate audience/honorary cast member (yes, that’s you, Sean); amazing music and musicians. Plus, Adam Keast, and he always is a plus with his ability to wrap the audience around his little finger, so adept, he happily makes any improv perfectly (literally) obvious, leading them a merry jig, irresistible as the Pied Piper.
Speaking of which, will our heroine stick to the straight and narrow or venture onto the path less travelled, what with having two suitors? But what chance does Prince Florizel the Fortunate have, although the clue is in the name: baggy trousers, woolly hat and anorak, against Lupus the Wolf, aka Johnny Depp in that ad, the tattooed Rock God? But Florizel, visiting the villagers in disguise to get to know his subjects, does have a big chopper…
Yes, that’s quite enough of that – oh no it isn’t! The show is full of double entendres, quadrupled indeed, to make you laugh out loud. Plenty of references to modern culture, set in the village of Soggy Bottom with a constant buffet of baked goods, though oddly, little political satire despite the example of oppressive rich being overcome by deserving poor. Little Red is the epitome of hard work and solid values. However, if not so vivacious, she’d risk being the female equivalent of Jack (Horner? Beanstalk?), all work and no play making a dull person.
For a short fairy tale, the bare bones have been fleshed out, and to borrow a phrase, dressed in a coat of many colours, resulting in a surprisingly lengthy show, because it insists on tying up every single thread a bit too neatly; Happy Endings all round. But even some character seems superfluous, as well as a few scenes, whether traditional or an attempt at innovation,
Never mind the plot though, it’s the characters which give it feeling. Aminata Francis sparkles away as fairy Cherry Blossom, the versifying narrator, suspended on a hoop which she valiantly navigates, while down-to-earth, and much more so, is Ben Welch as the ebullient Grandma, Millie Merry, completely over the top, and that’s just the costumes. Add her remarkable and versatile granddaughter, Paislie Reid and you get something even livelier than the Spice Girls. It’s all very girl power, which they need, being up against Lady Lucille De Ville who aims to take over the family cottage and the bakery. Jennifer Hynes, splendid in accoutrements and attitude, has a laugh to rival Vincent Price’s. She does get her comeuppance – more than once, and downfalls, through the shenanigans of her little helpers, Bodgitt (Rebecca Levy) and Dodgit (Robert Penny). Meanwhile, Keaton Guimarães-Tolley, like his name, is pretty outstanding, if conversely, as a nerd like hero. And a mean drummer, whereas Damien James is just plain mean as the big, bad wolf, or apparently so. And of course, there’s the remarkable Adam Keast as Ruffles, the prince’s aide-de-camp. Nuff said.
It’s yet another sterling effort from all concerned, and another evening to treasure at the Everyman.
Playing until 14th January 2023, https://www.everymanplayhouse.com/whats-on/the-rock-n-roll-panto-red-riding-hood
Reviewer: Carole Baldock
Reviewed: 29th November 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★