Pantomime made a triumphant return to Headley last week after a lapse of several years. With a new producer, some new members and some new ideas, the Theatre Club gave four very successful performances of one of the remoter pantomime stories, "The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe," and it is to be hoped that the reception given to it will encourage all the cast to make this an annual event once again.
An enterprise of this magnitude cannot be undertaken unless there is one person willing to accept ultimate responsibility. The hero of the revival of pantomime in Headley was John Chasty, who adapted the text for local use, painted the gay and attractive scenery, found a cast, produced the show, and found the time to play one of the leading comic parts, Lord Lummy, the villainous squire. He must be glad that Christmas comes but once a year.
The producer's own performance, lively and strongly projected, was one of several talented performances which, in a largely inexperienced cast, carried the show to success. The audience knew they were in expert hands when the curtain rose upon the respective proponents of good and evil, Marguerite Grigor and Liesl Johnson. Here were players capable of holding a much larger auditorium than the Headley Village Hall, and the duel between themwhich neither took very seriouslyguaranteed some very enjoyable scenes.
The text allowed them more scope that the immortals usually receive on these occasions. Marguerite Grigor gave the audience much the best solo singing that has been heard in local pantomime this season, while Liesl Johnson's solos, quieter and more sophisticated, made an effective and equally pleasing contrast.
Then there was Jimmy Ellis as the polyphiloprogenitive dame. His singing voice is not what it was in the days when diamonds were a girl's best friend, but he was never a dame to go in for loud effects, a red nose or striped bloomers. His method is always to rely on a gentle, insinuating approach into the audience's friendship, and once again, after beginning so quietly that he seemed to be underplaying, he finished by having everyone so completely under his control that every muttered aside carried to the back of the hall. It was an apparently effortless performance, geared instinctively to the place, the time and the mood.
Another very pleasing contribution came from Stuart Armstrong, who played the part of the gormless assistant to a crackpot scientist. This could have been a dreadful business, because the part was under-written and it was not a very happy conception anyway. With a black Beatle wig, a maniacal laugh and a hideous bout of acne furnished from the make-up box, everything was against him. But by an agreeable personality and a natural sense of comedy he turned a potential embarrassment into a modest little triumph. It would be nice to see him in more propitious circumstances.
These were the highlights, but it was one of the most striking features of the production that none of the principals failed in his task. Susan Bald was an attractive, clear-spoken heroine and Bruce Ogston a handsome lover; Dawn Lewcock excelled as one of those scatter-brained females she always impersonates so well; Tony Heseltine fussed guilelessly as the absent-minded professor; and Mike Noble and Sue Allden (who also appeared as villagers in the mundane world below) were admirable as the surprisingly bourgeois monarchs of the moon.
Then there was a clutch of young performers who did all that was required of them in supporting roles: Fione James and Chris Ellis as the professor's mislaid children; Richard Johnson and David Blakeborough as the squire's servants; and Tina Newman, Gillian Smith, Peter Lewcock and Richard Boxall as a representative sampling of the dame's 49 children.
Villagers and moon maidens were played by Francis Wilson, Esther Lucas, Evelyn Meek, Christina Johnson, Nina Hunter, Christine Boyd, Phillis Smith and Peter Fox. Unnamed in the programme, there was also a bevy of fairies and gnomes, infinitesimal persons who hopped and skipped a little in the opening stages before being carried off to bed.
The musical accompaniment was by Bessie Francis and Terry Johnson (piano) and John Mordaunt (drums).
The stage managers were Frank Smith and Ray Pascoe, the lighting was under the supervision of Bunny Rabbetts, and the sound effects were by Paul Buck. Dawn Lewcock, assisted by parents of the cast, was in charge of wardrobe.
Index of productions