Lord of the Ringos

My third sell-out Panto!

7.30pm, 9th and 10th December 2004,
Clarendon Centre, New England Street, Brighton

The long-awaited review

There was a buzz of excitement as the crowd waited in the cold December building site that is New England Street. Finally, the front doors were opened and they poured in as far as the doors to the auditorium, where they waited once again. Inside, a calm but fast-working Simon Pask was up his habitual ladder, adjusting and focusing a par-can to ensure the illumination of the side entrances.

Once the crowd came in, the reserved signs were removed and the heavy sounds of Eartha Kitt singing Santa Baby were being played. Final touches were applied to make-up and microphones. Sophie prayed long and loud (as is our tradition) and luck was wished all round.

Permission was sought from front of house and dressing room and granted and the radio crackled into silence. The band, lead by Neil Corin, supported by lots of strings, flutes, clarinets, a massive brass section (not unlike Blandalf, who had a massive bra section), the wonderful Fellingham, Fellingham & Rose drums bass and guitar ensemble, ably driven by the Townend/Corin keyboard combination, and several professional quality singers, launched into an instumental version of Lady Madonna. The crowd, restless at first tried to settle down to enjoy the show, but the nasal beevees soon shook them out back onto the edges of their seats.

Dave Loveland (as the huge, unlikely Blandalf Ono) grabbed the audience by the lapels and convinced them that he was in charge, and they seemed happy enough to let him have his way. He introduced John, Paul and George and the plot was set. Who was to be the drummer? No-one in the building ever considered it might be anyone other than Ringo, but there was a long way to go before their guesses would be proved correct. Tracey Law (a splendid John Lemming) commanded attention, and lots of people peered through Molly Coltart's manly make-up (as George) to try to work out who she was. Perhaps some succeeded... Meanwhile, Charly Wood's Paul McKneecart enchanted and confused the crowd with her smile and her lines.

The high-stepping entrance of Helen Ward as Legless, and the casual but imposing saunter of Tim De Marco as Aragornorf soon lengthened the short list of possible percussionists, and the Hard Dazed Knight danced into many memories.

The spectacularly beautiful Abbey Baeslack as Arwendor arrived through vast clouds of theatrical smoke, sitting in a trolley, brought on by a Hitchcock-like cameo-appearing director Andy Back as Oh Mr Porter. She stood, was somewhat strangely complimented, and left. But no-one was really listening much, as the porter gurned his way into a place which can only be described as upstage.

Blandalf encouraged participation, prejudicially stirring up disdain towards Winegumm (played athletically and with great sensitivity by Phil Bint). More dancing followed, and then Paul and Arwendor exchanged the first of many scenes in which their relationship seemed to be progressing only as if wading through jam.

Eventually Paul chooses to go to the Women's Institiute conference (down the Longhand Winding Road) and he's leaving home. Arwendor sobs as the Beatle boys try to comfort her, and then the third and final candidate for the post of sitting behind the kit arrives: King El Dodoronron, magnificent in breeches and ermine, played with aplomb by the constantly self re-inventing Al Birch. His accent drifted on purpose between Abergavenny and Blaenau Ffestinniog, but his attitude remained hostile, since all the answers to the questions were hopelessly inadequate. He vows revenge, after the roasted meats homage ('In Any Lane there's a traditional charcuterie'), featuring the first appearance of the Carving Minors, a wonderful gang of teenage dancers.

The second act opened with The King and his carvers doing nearly mortal damage to Paul, and with a heavenly battle for his soul (at least, I think that's what it was supposed to be). Then Paul is ignored by the two candidates for the drumming job who were offered the part, as Legless and then Aragornorf pass by on the other side, to use a Biblical phrase to try to remind you that this was supposed to be a parable.

Then, surprise, surprise, Winegumm, accompanied by his donkey (of course a panto cow called Prudence with the most painful and distended udder you could ever wish to see) played by Goldie Miles and Chris Yeo, stops the bleeding by applying pressures.

The third and final act reveals Hotel Mybelle, staffed by a massively over-french bonkers Receptioniste (Lynn Corin). She greets Arwendor, who has come through the hilarious revolving door to see Paul, and watches as Arwendor does her self-doubt and self-esteem dance (va-va-va-voom), thanks to a superb string quintet. Blandalf arrives to see John, and they rush out when Winegumm puts in an appearance. But he orders a rheum for Paul, and brings him in with Prudence (dear Prudence). The boys greet Paul, Blandalf feels some pruning coming on (while Stuart Townend performs a fabulous version of a song once loosely based on Let it Be but now referring tangentially to another of Tolkien's stories Tree and Leaf)

The prejudice Blandalf had shown towards Wingumm is exposed and repented of, and the wizened one explains that he cannot be paid off (you can't buy me, love). The Walrus character, who has been sitting still all evening, superbly characterised by the wonderful Rob Kirkwood, is introduced, applauded and thrown out. Paul and Arwendor eventually (after some painful false starts) declare their love for each other. And then the dancers come back in as everyone joins in a rolicking version of She loves You ('she loves you and she called you hot kebab.'

Following long and loud audience cheers, memebers of the audience are invited to join in a reprise of the final number, and the show closes.

An exhausted but happy cast and crew mingled with the crowd afterwards, as they munched on jam tarts and bags of... Ringos!

Congratulations to all.