The predictably brilliant writer/director/dame Andrew Pollard returns to Greenwich Theatre again for another triumphant Panto season, marking the 50th anniversary of the theatre’s reopening. Pollard tackles
Just when you thought Greenwich’s panto was already perfect, they go and make it better.
Back in 1969 a young actor – Ewan (Regan Burke) – is in the bowels of Greenwich Theatre where he discovers a Fabergé egg. Inside is Fairy Fabergé (Funlola Olufunwa) who transports Ewan back to 1851 Russia where Tsar Ivan the Slightly Irritable (Martin Johnston) and wife Tsarina Bertha (Andrew Pollard) are preparing for the christening of their daughter Anastasia (Esme Bacalla-Hayes). All is not well however as the evil Rasputin (Anthony Spargo) is plotting to dispose of the Tsar and take control. This set up is just the start of an unconventional Sleeping Beauty that time hops between the 19th and 20th centuries to not only tell the fable of the princess cursed by a prick from a spinning wheel, but the story of the birth of Greenwich Theatre based (very loosely) on the real-life tale of Scottish actor Ewan Hooper who was the driving force that saved the building from demolition and established the theatre we know and love today.
Pollard throws everything into it this year, from the subtle millinery nod to the original Rose & Crown Music Hall that stood on the site in 1855 to the 1969 Moon landing that coincided with the theatre’s reopening. The production is noticeably more lavish than previous years, and it wasn’t as if they were skimping in the past. For those that know the space backstage at Greenwich, you’ll be wondering what games of Tetris they are playing just to physically store the countless bits of scenery that appear as the revolve does another turn. It’s highly impressive for that alone.
But it’s Pollard’s understanding of the Panto format that is the true star here. He eschews the stunt-casting stratagem employed by the big corporate Panto producers and lets the performances and script shine. Gags come thick and fast, laden with double entendre and more ham than Waitrose’s deli counter. Pollard appears, as you’d expect, in all manner of outrageous frocks dropping ad libs possibly deliberately intended to corpse his fellow cast members. Our hero Regan Burke impresses with his vocals and ability to deal with Pollard’s tomfoolery. Serial villain Anthony Spargo is back for his seventh gig opposite Pollard and this year is doing his best to upstage the dame with his facial contortions and out-and-out campery. Talking of which, the ‘Buttons’ character in this Panto is hilarious Eli Caldwell as effeminate Swedish au pair Björn who prances across the stage in the tightest of hotpants and a permanent smile.
Just when you thought Greenwich’s panto was already perfect, they go and make it better. Bigger sets; more theatrical stunts and the kind of production only experienced hands like Pollard could deliver. Happy birthday Greenwich.