Review: Latin flavours add spice to Chippy panto
Pantomime at The Theatre, Chipping Norton, can always been relied upon to be a notch above just about every other pantomime in the country.
The company usually manages to balance the traditional aspects of the form - the knockabout comedy, the boom-boom jokes, the gorgeous and outrageous costumes, the beautiful heroine and hero, the dastardly villain, the cross-dressing and the audience participation - with something a little bit special, not least the very long run, roughly two shows a day from mid-November to Mid-January. Quite what it is, is often hard to pin down. It has more to do with quality than quantity. Something in the writing perhaps which satisfies an adult need for wit as well as slapstick laughs.
This year all the ingredients are there, but with an obvious difference. Now we are not in fairy land but in the Amazon Jungle. The music is Latin American and the language, well, a little of it, is Spanish. There is a strong eco-theme which runs through the plot that concerns danger to the Amazon rainforest. The wicked Elsa (Pepa Duarte), evil step-mother to the utterly beautiful Cinderella (Ainy Medina), wants to turn the jungle over to the production of bananas and beef for her beef ‘n’ banana burgers. But Cinders has the help of the fairy-godmother-like figure of Madre Monte (also played by Pepa Duarte), whose name means Mother Mountain. She sends Cinders to the ball and performs a magical sleight-of-hand dress change on the stage that is in itself worth the price of a ticket to see. Of course, Cinders gets her man.
We get not one but two pantomime dames in this show, the gloriously matched Quasimoda (Ian Crowe) and Adnausea (Laura Gomez Gracia), outrageously over the top in their dolly-mixture clothes, and desperate in their pursuit of the handsome but shy (and very rich) Don Francisco, aka Chico (Fabia Soto Pacheo), who of course loves Cinders all along. The ball scene is a glorious evocation of Carnival, full of colour and light and laughter, which had everyone’s feet tapping.
Chippy’s tradition of using local children to play the Pippins is there: Ivy Nolan, Archie Campbell, Vanessa de la Cruz and Isla Morris doing great work on the night I was there. Isla Morris in particular played the part of Dani, Chico’s side-kick, with cheeky charm. Dressed in donkey costumes, they formed part of Buttons’ (Renan Teodoro) delivery enterprise, Donkaroo. The ensemble was made up of Tamara Safir, who also played the long-suffering Stage Manager, and Conor Mathers.
Pantomime both benefits and suffers from the weight of tradition. Audiences expect the familiar tropes, and they can be done well or not so well. At Chipping Norton they are all done with exceptional skill. The show is fast and funny, colourful and comforting. John Terry’s production this year has added in a hefty slice of eco-consciousness and overt cross-cultural references, which makes it very contemporary and ‘aware.’ It takes some skill to pull off this mixture of the new with the old, and there were at times when I felt it might be edging towards being a bit too rich in references.
But this kind of brinkmanship is what makes pantomime exciting and is where the freshness lies. Chipping Norton Theatre is good at this, and their panto is one of the landmarks of the season. This year it goes global. It’s a great journey.
Until January 14. Call 01608 642350 or visit chippingnortontheatre.com to book