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Guardians of the Pantoverse

by on 5 December 2022

Game for a Laugh

Guardians of the Pantoverse

by Daniel Wain, lyrics adapted by Nigel Cole and Lizzie Lattimore

Teddington Theatre Club at Hampton Hill Theatre until 11th December

Review by Thea Diamond

With Christmas fast approaching, what better way to start the season with a visit to Hampton Hill Theatre to be immersed not only into the world of panto, but into the world of gaming.  Daniel Wain’s original piece written especially for this production and directed by Nigel Cole, not only incorporates all aspects of this best loved festive tradition (the cheering and booing for our heroes and villains, the cross dressing, and plentiful audience participation and joining in with action songs), but the tale has also been cleverly based in the world of video games, also incorporating many gaming genres, as well as a mixture of songs old and new, and viral internet videos and memes. 

We’re whisked straight away into the villagers’ song and dance routine, which well and truly sets the pace for what is to come with impressive choreography, energetic singing and dancing, as well as fabulous costumes and plenty of feel-good spirit. 

The beautifully warm and kind fairy (Rachael Rajah) with her lyrical Welsh lilt, cool fashion sense complete with sparkly tulle puffy skirt and cool yellow trainers, sets us straight with the story so far.  She speaks in rhyme, of course, until being banned from doing so by King Rat the CEO (Chief Evil Officer) of MEGA CORP.

Having been born in a dustbin and endured years of panto at the Hackney Empire, evil King Rat, played by Scott Tilley with impressive physical stage presence (not to forget his amazingly intricate furry pelt coat) and enough villainous aplomb to get the audience booing and kiddies hiding under their Christmas jumpers, has captured Beauty, Prince (Not Very) Charming, Window Twanky, Muddles and Baron Hardup in a fiendishly complicated video game.  To rescue them from the game, our hero Jack (played with loveable gusto and charm by thigh slapping principal boy Molly Cole) has to gather the five iconic icons of panto iconography to free our friends and release Panto Land from certain oblivion.   

The whimsical countryside set, intricately designed by Fiona Auty (including the Princess’ tall tower covered in trailing ivy leaves) transforms into a video game, complete with a Nintendo switch handheld console backdrop.  Aspects of the games (such as a map, items to be collected and player choices) are projected along with a Princess Leia type zoom rescue message from our self-proclaimed ballsy Beauty (Ellie Armstrong).

As the story progresses, Johnathan Cherry and Nigel Cole’s clever animations continue with Abba-esque videos of the actors singing and with montages of well-known films, TV shows, games, memes and viral internet phenomena.   I’m afraid to say, many were lost on me, but not on the groaning teenagers who weren’t too impressed with the inclusion of My Name is Chicky (the second of three audience participation songs, which I could provide a spoiler for those not in the know about this viral You Tube video and TikTok sensation).  We are also treated to voiceovers from Chris Ferretti and Darren McIlroy, and be sure to listen out for Strictly’s and The National Lottery’s Alan Dedicoat making a familiar sounding appearance. 

We enter King Rat’s dark and gloomy lair where we meet his likeable robotic henchman Glitch (Caro Hayes) played with C-3PO camp undertones, and The Baron’s French oh-la-la naughty avatar (Dave Dadswell).  We’re also introduced to Josh Clarke’s Prince Charming played with a pomposity that rivals a certain ex-Eton alumnus, along with the familiar political apology at the end, after he’s redeemed from meddling with the dark side.  Other panto ‘baddies’ are played by ensemble members (Danielle Thompson, Joanna Taylor, Zoe Arden and Sian Walters) who along with their panto ‘goodie’ counterparts (Juliet Manners, Leigh Dent, Roxanne Ip and Naomi Pink) keep the audience well and truly entertained with their amazing variety of costumes (eleven changes in total crafted by Maggie Revis, Lesley Alexander and Janet Jones, who all-in-all provide over ninety jaw-dropping costumes for this production); technically precise dancing, brilliantly choreographed by Gita Singham-Willis; and wide ranging toe-tapping songs and musical numbers produced by musical director Lizzie Lattimore. 

The audience are given the choice to first rescue either Muddles, the loveable Buttons character, portrayed with cute children’s TV presenter mannerisms by Alex Farley and his wonderfully bright costumes, or suitably coarse Scottish Window Twanky (David Hannigan).  Twanky not only has the best jokes and well known stock panto sexual innuendos and double entendres (going over the heads of the many youngsters immersed in rustling their sweet wrappers, but which wouldn’t have been out of place in a stand-up comedy club), but also the best and most fab-u-lous costumes.  The Carmen Miranda dress and tropical fruit headpiece are truly a sight to behold – congratulations to wardrobe again and again!  

A number of the actors not only pull off an endless stream of up-to-date jokes about recent (World Cup) and no-so recent (Brexit, Covid) events with great comic timing, but also manage to ad lib confidently with the audience.  Don’t sit too close to the front if you want to avoid being the butt of the Dame’s jokes and flirtations, but don’t sit too far away as you’ll miss catching any of the shower of sweets.  Remember to also get any shout-outs in to front of house, such as birthdays and anniversaries, to make this even more of a standout show to remember in this winter panto-verse.  Well done Teddington Theatre Club for making panto combined with gaming a reason to enjoy the season.

Thea Diamond, December 2022

Photography by Sarah J Carter

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