Yeovil Octagon until 3rd January
FOR anyone who is interested in live performance, pantomime (whether you like it or not) is synonymous with Christmas, and when theatres around the country went dark for even longer than the first lockdown, received grants from the government, reopened and then were closed again, it seemed as though another aspect of the festive season would fall prey to Covid-19.
Just a handful of theatres have managed to put on a traditional show, with a dame, a goody, a baddie, a fairy et al. Many of those in the north (and nearer home in Bristol) had planned shows, only to be relegated to the doldrums of Tier 3.
It would have been easy to despair, but Paul Hendy was gleefully determined not to let that happen to the audience he and his Evolution Productions team have established in Yeovil over the past years. It wouldn’t be easy, but they would do it. And they have… magnificently.
All the Covid regulations have to be in force for the performers, backstage team, front of house and the audience. And the essence of pantomime is rich in family outings and audience involvement, usually in the form of rowdy participation. How would Paul, director Dorcas Wood, and the team get round it?
The five-strong cast in Nurse Nellie Saves Panto have been combubbulated for weeks. Husband and wife Thom Ford (from Crewkerne) and Kathryn Nash (from Texas via Orlando) came back to his home for the season. Gordon Cooper (in the title role) has been daming it in panto in the south west for years, and pantomime wouldn’t be the same in Yeovil without the hilarious antics of Jack Glanville.
One to go – and who better than Evelyn Hoskins to play the heroic Jill? She was last on the Octagon stage in 2005, with the Yeovil Youth Theatre and Yeovil College companies and is delighted to be returning home for Christmas, and her starring role.
Covid is the elephant in every room, and so Paul and the team cleverly wove references in the jokes, the story and even a bit of the songs. It was never overdone in a show packed with inspired one-liners, dreadful puns, familiar routines, ghastly accents and ghostly apparitions. In a year full of real, full-bodied baddies, the one-dimensional panto variety had a run for its money, and the audience decided that of Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and Dominic Cummings, our man in Barnard Castle won hands down.
Instead of shouting and booing and hissing, the socially-distanced audience members stamped their feet, made drum rolls on their thighs, and clapped their sanitised hands.
In case you are interested, Prof von Badapple (aka Thom Ford) hates pantomime, after being forced to watch the essentially English entertainment as a child. He is determined to finish the oeuvre forever. But Nurse Nellie, that stalwart representative of the caring profession, her plucky daughter Jill and her son Billy have other ideas. And they have Fairy Moonshot on their side.
I don’t want to spoil the fun, so I suggest you, your family, your bubble, or whoever you are allowed to be with, get on down to the Octagon to see this wonderful celebration of pantomime. There are going to be “2020 pantomimes” all around the country, but I can’t imagine a better one than this. Under almost impossible circumstances the company has magicked a minor miracle in Yeovil, and I can’t praise them enough.
Thank you, all of you.