The Little Mermaid, SNADS at Sturminster Newton Exchange

THE story of the Little Mermaid is complicated enough, but when the denouement happens at the same time as 22 small children decide to stand pressed to the front of the stage, jumping up and down and shouting instructions, it takes a good deal of skill and volume from the actors to keep a play going.

That’s just what members of Sturminster Newton Amateur Dramatic Society had to do at the Saturday matinee of their post-Christmas pantomime 2022, as the stage was stormed by excited tinies keen to point out that the “princess” was in fact a sea witch and the Little Mermaid herself was tied up on the floor behind the royal throne.

The hilarious scene came towards the end of a three-hour show packed full of ideas, astonishing costumes for the whole cast of 36 (designed and created by Annie Henschel and her team), stunning set pieces that filled the Exchange’s wide open spaces, masses of audience participation and songs for everyone.

Paula Skinner was directing her first pantomime, a big challenge with so many people, many of whom were newcomers to the company. The script, by Kate Goddard, introduces a couple of pairs of knockabout comics – Topp and Bottom, keepers of the royal kit­chens and loos, and Dabberlocks and Bladderwrack, sidekicks of sea witch Iphelia.  It calls on Topp to start the “behind yous” and “oh no he didn’ts” and  Fiona Drewett did it with aplomb, joined by Nati Mason-Flynn as Lou Bottom, taking care of the potty jokes so beloved of the younger audience.

For the first time in living memory, SNADS had a new dame, in the person of local radio DJ Steve Bennett – not to be confused with the distinguished Devonian dame of the same name. SNADS’ Dame Granny G is all about mincing in a mermaid tail and wearing human detritus and discards as colourful clothing.

Lisa Ford richly enjoyed her nasty chances, planning the destruction of good prince William and the resulting control of Neptune’s kingdom. It didn’t quite work out, thanks to the power of the Oceanic god and the guile of the goodies. Alice Ralph is a swashbuckling Prince William and Holly Fripp a delightfully besotted mermaid willing to give up her life for the royal she loves.

There is SO MUCH going on that it’s easy to lose track of the story, as some of the young audience discovered before or after the umpteenth trip to the loo. (how DID we manage as children?)

It was heartening to see a full house at the Exchange, and to feel such excitement and anticipation. The show needs pruning, but SNADS panto 2022 proves that live theatre is alive and well in North Dorset, pandemic and Brexit bedammed.


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