Queen's Theatre Hornchurch
Cut to the Chase company
for The Public Reviews
photograph by Nobby Clark
Fresh as the paint on old Peking, Bob Carlton's fun-packed family panto was chock-full of charm and chutzpah; even by the third performance it looked slick and secure, with all the routines well-oiled. Impressively, this is an entirely home-made, in-house production, with the actor-musicians of Cut to the Chase, children from local schools, and costumes and sets created over the year by their own wardrobe, workshop, scenic art and stage management departments.
Nicholas Pegg's brand new book [his twelfth for the Queen's] ticked all the boxes, but there was style, too, with sophisticated wordplay for those quick enough to catch it. The “sesame” substitutes just one example. Carol Sloman's music covered all the panto genres, from sloppy romance through sing-along nonsense to the Formby tribute Families Are Fun, with Wishee on his little ukulele.
No names or nonentities here, just the incredibly versatile resident company, acting, singing and playing in the pit, obviously enjoying their annual treat in pantoland. None more than classy “classical actor” Stuart Organ, relishing every syllable of the lively, literate script as Abanazer, popping up stage left in a cloud of smoke. I loved Natasha Moore as the slave of the ring, having a Barking moment before she realised where she was. Coalition cuts to thank, perhaps, that she was also a radiant Princess Jasmine. An even more demanding double whammy from Matthew Quinn, as a gleeful Vizier and a cuddly Yeti – excellent work in both. Steve Simmonds was amusing as a somewhat jaded Genie of the Lamp, and Tom Jude worked well with Quinn as the Emperor. The “infernal boy” who woos his daughter was the clean-cut Oliver Seymour-Marsh, who sang superbly I thought. Joe West worked his socks off as Wishee-Washee, encouraging the audience [who were often several steps ahead of him], throwing himself enthusiastically into all that physical stuff; his mother, hardly old enough to be widowed, surely, was company regular Simon Jessop's Twankey, with a nice line in caustic throwaways and of course some gorgeous outfits – the Willow Pattern, the washing-line titfer.
The Young Company – one of three teams of eight children – brought energy and enthusiasm to the staging, and had some of the best choreography [Donna Berlin], dressed as mini-me genies for the pyrotechnic Act One finale, and making oysters from fans, pearls from fireflies, in the Palace Garden.
And “hours of humiliation” for random punter Michael from Ilford, who made the mistake of sitting in the front row ...
Mark Walters' designs sparkled, like pages from a pop-up book; the wall of China disappearing into the distance “like the tail of a dragon”, and a lovely cave.
There were novelties – an inventive carpet ride, the messy scene featuring an animated noodle bar rather than the laundry – but this panto did not neglect tradition [Hearts and Flowers, New Lamps for Old] or the all-important routine and repetition [watering the plants]. We should not forget that these hoary old gags are cutting edge comedy for the five-year-old in the row in front … “No, I always walk like this … Suit yourself, Michael !”