By Milan Perera, Second Year English
The highly-anticipated PantoSoc production of Panto Carol, leading up to the Holiday season had to be postponed indefinitely due to the outbreak of Omicron. But fear not! Panto Carol is back from the ashes, as resplendent as a phoenix.
Although Pantomime has its origin in the ‘Commedia dell'Arte’, a 16th-century Italian entertainment, the Victorians perfected it as a unique branch of theatre which included a good measure of singing, dancing, acrobatics and slapstick. Panto Carol is a vibrant pastiche of Charles Dickens, Gothic Horror and musicals, embellished with puppetry.
The story begins when Scrooge(Liv Kay), a businesswoman reminiscing about her youth(Maisie Hare as young Scrooge.) Still set in 1840s but relocated to Bristol, the scriptwriter Hannah Kemp creates a dazzling kaleidoscope of various literary characters with ample reference to popular culture. The Gothic icons, Edgar Allan Poe (Caleb Plant) and Mary Shelley (Angelique Trinder) oversee the action unfolding at the centre stage, as they eagerly wait in wing surrounded by Christmas decorations.
The set also invokes the presence of menacing figures such as Sweeney Todd (Sam Stokes) and Dracula (Niamh Fraser.) The Sharpays, representing the three shades of pink (Fran McDaid, Stephen Murphy and Zoe Giffen) are mean-spirited and haughty. Deemed as the ‘cool’ people at the school where everyone drooling is for their friendship. The three Sharpays broke into song and threw a high-octane dance routine that went down a treat with the audience.
Both acts were replete with sparkling pantomime tropes, innuendos and parodies which left the audience in stitches. Suited to an adult audience with some strong language and sexual references, the production team went one step further by providing the audience with printouts charting content warnings in order not to be caught off guard. The set definitely exploded into something far more raucous with the arrival of Auntie, played to a tee by Blythe White!
Auntie is without doubt the favourite of the crowd, with whom she interacted throughout the performance, some time to pity her for loveless existence and sometimes to tell her a joke to cheer her up. A terrifying spectacle occurred when Ghostbuster (Juliette Wolsley) and Beetlejuice(Ruari McDonald) were joined by the most feared masterminds of history, Victor Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll.
Belle (Jeff Monzon) and Rapunzel (Evie Weale) brought in festive cheer to the set, while the puppetry skills of Jonte Hance worked a treat with the crowd. No pantomime is complete without a belt out singalong which featured the sworn enemies, Robin Hood (Brona Ruiseal) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Hannah Kemp.) The raucous rendition of ‘Sweet Caroline’ brought the house down as the audience enthusiastically joined the ensemble.
The gender-swapping of Scrooge was a slick move. Theatrically playful, it nods to panto damehood, whilst maintaining the period setting allows for a revisionist feminist imagining of Victorian womanhood. Blythe White storms in and out as Auntie, who, like everybody else on stage, seems to be having a great time. She even led the raffle draw during the interval in aid of ‘Young Lives v Cancer.’
Brimming with an irresistible festive charm, with active participation of the audience, Panto Carol proved to be a roaring success. After a two year hiatus, PantoSoc President, Ellie Allen, seemed to be both relieved and overwhelmed by the response of the audience - her pride was palpable. There was such note of gladness in her voice that everything suddenly seemed radiant and effervescent, like the spirit of Christmas itself!
Featured Image: Milan Perera | Epigram
The Panto Carol is at Pegg Theatre on February 23-26, with a matinee on Saturday.