Theatre Reviews

Oh yes it is! Sarah Jeffries and Amy Milka report for our panto special

At any mention of pantomime I can’t help but conjure images of inescapable jollity and headache-inducing colours, so I was wary at the prospect of Cinderella at York Theatre Royal. However this is no ordinary panto. Written and led by Berwick Kaler who has been in the role for 29 years, with Martin Barrass his trusty sidekick for 21 of those, they have refined it to an art form. As Barrass says, the mantra for pantomime creation is “is this the best we can do?” and it is this dedication that gives the show its magic. Barrass cites the “laziness” that has built up (complete with questionable ‘celebrities’) and given pantomime a bad name. Kaler has flipped this around, and in any YTR panto “the only celebrities are in the audience”.

The term ‘postmodern pantomime’ has been used to describe the show, and was justified within the first five minutes. We were greeted with a typical English Morris dancing scene, yet after just two minutes of the chorus’s ‘good old pantomime’ song, the Pussy Cat dolls belted out and the demure village ladies became somewhat burlesque. Berwick dislikes “anything twee”, with Barrass and Vincent Gray (Buttons) emphasising that the show is all about “the unexpected”. This attitude of challenging audience expectations results in a fantastical assault on the senses.
Cinderella’s modern edge comes from the careful interlacing of pop culture witticisms, with 2006 summed up with a video remake of the irritating ‘Sheila’s Wheels’ adverts and of course the Hoff. Barrass highlights the heavy emphasis on “physical theatre” which Gray continues with the importance of “partnerships” within the production.

Asking about the traditional moral message of the performance, I received a mixed response: Barrass concluded “it’s nicer to be nice than nasty, then I get beaten up for it”, with Gray adding, “don’t stop trying and it will eventually happen”. If you are still questioning whether to see Cinderella, from Gray himself: “you can’t get a funnier night out anywhere”. In all its pythonesque glory, I really have been converted by the show; long may Kaler and his team’s reign over the pantomime season last.

All the fun of the panto can also be found on our own doorstep. For three whole nights, Central Hall becomes a fully-fledged forest, complete with merry men. I met Will Seaward, director of Robbin’ Hood, who explained his unusual take on the classic story.

“It all begins in Tang Hall”: not often a phrase connected with a heart-warming story. Seaward’s Robin (Rebecca Chalk) swaps Sherwood for YO10, roaming the dangerous territory off Hull Road. Here, in the process of stealing her handbag, he meets Marian (Amy-Claire Scott), the beautiful SU officer who will turn him from slumming it by the Co-op towards a valiant crusade against the evil Sheriff, terrorising the students of York to fund the Heslington East development.

Although Seaward’s version carries a clear message to the student audience, let’s not forget that we’re still talking pantomime. Enter Will Scarlet (Catrin Jones), a girl dressed as a boy in order to win the affections of Robin, who (s)he thinks is gay. Add a Friar Tuck who only talks in rhyme, a Little John confused by his amorous feelings towards comrade Will, and, as if that isn’t mayhem enough, a despondent Cupid with suicidal tendencies.

Pantsoc have clearly gone all out on this one, but they are on a strict budget. “We don’t receive any SU funding”, Seaward explains, “so we’ve been raising money by waxing our legs” (he shows a shiny shin). Overall this promises to be a hilarious and successful student production.
Robbin’ Hood is in Central Hall on 25, 26 and 27 January. Tickets are £3 on Thursday, £4 on Friday and Saturday, and available at Your:Shop, Vanbrugh stalls, or from [email protected]

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