Outrageous double entendres, cringeworthy jokes, dodgy accents, and lots of laughs – what else could it be but a panto?
In particular, Brightlingsea Panto Group’s panto – and what a great panto it was. Jungle Adventure took the audience on a wild ride to find a golden banana, defeat baddies and – well, if the plot got lost in the fun, who cares?
With 44 pantos under its belt since 1978 – including a covid-enforced hiatus in 2021 and 2022 broke the run – this group knows how to put on a show that can easily rival more ‘professional’ productions with wallet-busting ticket prices.
We were in safe hands with the kilt-clad ‘Scottish’ duo of Ginger and Nuts, played by stalwarts Gary Hill and Mark Jack. Their timing and comedy confidence kept the audience laughing at their antics and corny gags.
Panto dames are often big and brash – Josh Betteridge served up a slim, pneumatic Dame Doris, fizzing with energy, who quickly had the audience in the palm of her hand. Charlotte Cudmore was Doris’ delightful – and acrobatic – sidekick Cara Loft, played with infectious, bubbly enthusiasm.
Baddie Alan Van Der Merwe as Witchetty Grub quickly proved to be a dab hand generating boos from the audience at his evil plans. Gordon Collen, reliable as ever in the role of Prince Mabooboo, fooled us all with a pitch-perfect copy of Alan’s accent when taken over by the baddie (you had to be there!).
Lee Rowland was a commanding King Pong, brazenly rocking a gorilla suit, skirt and stockings, and it wasn’t just Tony Lopez’ knees that had the audience chuckling whenever his ragged Jungle Man took to the Community Centre stage.
Beck Stevens as Tygris was the ‘good fairy’ of the production, confidently moving the plot along, while Sam Smith was a winning – and touchingly-confused – Mawinky.
More confusion and forgetfulness came in the form of Vandi Rathbone’s authentically regal Queen Mawimbaway. Lady Matarta, played by Tracey Hayes-Burt, kept here mother and the plot in check, keeping it rattling along in fine style.
Backing up the strong lead performances were the excellent ensembles of Jungle Tribes, Monkeys, Matarta’s girls and Evil Spirits, featuring step-perfect performers of all ages. Cell Block Tango (He Had It Coming), sung and danced by the six lady Wild Cats was a slinky and sexy standout.
A little more slapstick – and perhaps a custard pie or two – wouldn’t have gone amiss, and in places the script showed its age. But overall, the show zinged – only to be expected with time-served producers Kate Hynd and Tracey Hayes-Burt in charge.
The jungle-themed set popped with colour, the music was well chosen, the costumes clever and imaginative, and the lighting and effects were as professional as ever.
As the Panto Group heads towards its half-century, it’s great to see that enthusiasm for its annual show is undimmed. Don’t miss the next one!