REVIEW: White Rock panto foiled by handling
Judging by the matinee performance I saw last Sunday, the 57th annual White Rock Players Club pantomime, Mother Goose, written by the Brothers Dimm, is connecting – on some levels at least – with a loyal audience.
There are individual elements worthy of praise and, with all the charity appropriate to the season, they should be noted.
Ryan Elliott, all black pompadour, curling lip and vocal tricks, does a great turn as a Humpty Dumpty re-imagined as a late-career Elvis Presley (helped immeasurably by a white egg-shaped jumpsuit specially created by show’s co-author, composer and prop-constructor extraordinaire Tom Saunders).
Saunders, too, has done his usual splendid job in crafting topical lyrics for the traditional Wonderful Year We Fell In Love duet – and his instrumental backing tracks for this and all of the numbers in the otherwise original score are exemplary.
Jackie Block, who plays Jill, is a great singer – so good, in fact, that one hates to see her stuck with a running gag in which her performance of the deliberately sappy ballad, Once Upon A Time In My Heart, is continually interrupted.
As Wee Willie Winkie, newcomer Bryce Paul Mills – possibly by virtue of his utter Britishness – obviously ‘gets’ the idea of panto, and demonstrates that he is well-suited for the loud and goofy, knockabout humour of the genre.
Kyle Stewart and Maderi Mynhardt bring their customary skill and stage presence to the comedy villains Smith and Jones.
Michelle Gaetz cuts the right figure for a traditional principal boy (although the Brothers Dimm’s postmodern Jack can hardly be counted a traditional principal boy).
Desiree Tremblay, although she’s a tad quiet, makes a commendable effort of putting over the Song Of The Meadows.
As the evil ‘Giant,’ Dave Baron (who also directed) shows he understands the broad approach needed for such characters – and he and Mother Goose (Nigel Watkinson) sing and dance a lively Wonderful Year.
Ray Van Ieperen is suitably and comically grotesque as an inappropriate Good Fairy drafted at the last minute (although I doubt his cruder comments come from the script).
There’s a large group of bright and cheery personalities in the chorus – some of them very young – and they fulfill their duties with verve and all the requisite charm.
The costumes (supervised by Heather Maximea) and the sets (with a special nod to the skills of Colin Fotherby) give the show a certain professional patina.
Indeed, this is a show that looks like a pantomime, and sounds like one whenever the cast breaks into song (good vocal direction by Jackie Baron and choreography by Lena Dabrusin).
The big problem is all the time in between – which is likely to be rough sledding for anyone who isn’t connected, by family or typically fierce Players Club partisanship, to this production.
It’s hard, in all charity, to call this a complete entertainment. The ingredients may be there, but someone forgot to put the cake in the oven. What should have been eggnog and Christmas pudding becomes tepid tea and yesterday’s doughnuts.
Whatever one feels about the satirical approach of the Brothers D to the traditional Christmas entertainment (cool and ironic will never be mistaken for warm and fuzzy, after all) this is proven material that has worked well in the past, including its debut WRPC production in 1997. Mother Goose is far from a traditional pantomime, and, consequently, its iconoclastic satire of the idiom needs to be handled with some slickness.
Here, unfortunately, it is undermined by slack direction, a dragging pace and stepped-on cues. In such a context, a self-satirizing pantomime seems akin to an endangered species painting a target on its own back.
As the title character, Watkinson seems too often to be struggling to remember his lines. And while he demonstrates he has all the courage needed to don the ridiculous makeup, wig and costumes of the Dame, sadly, that’s not the same thing as delivering a fully fledged performance in a role that demands a certain cheeky likeability.
Patrons can, at least, congratulate themselves that, in purchasing a ticket this year, they have donated to keeping a grand old tradition – and the White Rock Players Club – alive.