2023 - The Panto Puzzle


 The Panto Puzzle- The Russell Players, Swallowfield

The Panto season came a bit earlier than usual in Swallowfield this year with the Russell Players’ annual offering arriving all wrapped up in brightly decorated boxes just in time for Christmas!

 The dynamic duo of Cheeky Charlie and Dame Dolly Mixture literally jumped in and out of three different pantomimes (Robinson Crusoe, Sleeping Beauty and Red Riding Hood) in a desperate hunt to help Cinderella recover her magic pumpkin, glass slippers and white mice, which had been burgled from storage by the wicked Witch, Evilena, played to great effect by the gruesomely demonic Trish Harris.

David Parsonson as the lugubrious and slightly world- weary stage manager had the unenviable task of setting out to the audience the complex scenario, namely, that all the pantos had been boxed up  and mothballed on the orders of an all- powerful but anonymous theatrical management. By the end of the first act, most of us had got the idea of what was going on. Skilful lights and special effects operated by Brian Partington ensured that the crucial blackouts, required each time that our heroes jumped into the next panto, were successfully executed with lightning precision.

The success of Chris Partridge’s production rested heavily on the shoulders of Charlie and Dame Dolly. Andy Witting as Charlie gave a high energy performance as the slightly reluctant hero, nervously compelled by a sense of fair play to right the wrongs inflicted on Cinderella.  His constant anxious animation was slightly reminiscent of Stan Laurel. Deni Smale’s spirited Dame Dolly interacted well with the audience and was a good sparring partner for Charlie, never missing an opportunity to find a husband (or indeed a man of any description!).

Alby Wright, (double cast as a pair of different characters from each of the featured pantomimes), delivered two solid cameo performances.  Lisa Johnston (also double cast) shone, both as the good fairy, Alexa and the Lady in Waiting, Sarah. Her attractive voice and charming stage presence were a particular feature. A temperamental confetti cannon did not prevent Jack the kitchen boy (Juliet Devon), from creating mayhem as she and Charlie tried to decorate a large cake with icing and sprinkles in the Palace kitchen.

Disembodied voices emanating from characters from other pantos (including Cinderella and Rapunzel) who remained packed up in their boxes, were ably provided by a galaxy of well- known Russell Players on- stage regulars.

The set was cleverly designed by Chris Partridge to accommodate scenes from three different pantos, a deserted theatre stage and a splendidly spooky witch’s lair, complete with cauldron, bats and cat familiar. Mags Broadhurst’s stunning costumes were a complete triumph and, once again, a real highlight of Panto time in Swallowfield.  

Duncan Hamilton