Review: Puss In Boots. Nottingham Arts Theatre

Puss In Boots

Nottingham Arts Theatre

3-18 December

This year’s amateur Puss In Boots production is well written by Amanda Hall and Matt Wesson and directed by Cassie Hall. The musical director is Samantha Hedley. The Nottingham Arts Theatre productions have a big following and some of this year’s pantomime is already sold out. Very often they have big contingents of school children in their audience who love the NAT panto and, historically the cast’s principals will gather outside the theatre to let the children and adults take a group photo or selfie with the Dame and other principals. It is a very friendly, inclusive, and welcoming company and no wonder they get regulars returning year- after-year for their fun fix of Nottingham Arts Theatre pantomime. Oh yes they do! I can’t hear you. “OH YES THEY DOOOO!”

Today I get to review their very first performance of Puss In Boots and it is a sold-out Saturday matinée. The place (and its comfy plush seating) is buzzing with family groups and a large group of youngsters from the NAT Youth group. Pantomime is one of the few times when reviewers and general theatre-goers can actually relax to the sound of sweet wrappers being scrunched and drinks being slurped. We even pretend to enjoy the sight of the smaller restless children continuously trying to climb over their doting parents whilst kicking the reviewer in the face. This is why we are seated conveniently next to them. Shouting out is normal practice. Shrieking and ear-shattering bellowing “He’s Behind You!” and hitting the wincing reviewer in the face with your pulsating neon wand is fine. We love it. It’s all part of the panto fun boys and girls. Want to spill your full drink into the reviewer’s lap. He loves that too. Bless the little kiddies and their uncontrollable limbs. God bless ‘em – every one.

So, where were we? Oh yes – Puss In Boots (Boots the footware not the famous Nottingham-based company). It’s a generally enjoyable two and a half hours long pantomime including interval. The first act is a little lengthy for me. And, maybe because I am a grumpy adult who wants to be told a story, however panto-simplistic, I find that this Puss In Boots storyline gets a little lost due to the decision to use rather a lot of songs to keep the show up and bright. That’s not to say that the songs and dances, including an unexpected and a bit gratuitous, brief ballet sequence, are not well done. They are all of a high standard and this audience applaud accordingly and, should their offspring be in the cast, they applaud like crazy. Of course, they do. It is great to encourage young people into performing live and the subsequent benefits of confidence building, discipline and theatre skills learnt are invaluable.  Many will stay with the company for many a year and rise up from being in the chorus to one day having the skills and confidence to perform in the main roles.

Today, there is a sulky female teenager in the audience who maybe, just maybe, didn’t get offered a part in the panto and feels that it is perfectly alright to show off to her teen cronies by constantly trying to interrupt the pantomime performers with loud and over- dramatic (I’m so bored) huffs and puffs and sarcastic comments. Every snide interruption from this jealous young girl is a reminder that the people on the stage, wisely ignoring her outbursts – like the stage champions they are, are so much better and more mature than her. That is why they are on the stage entertaining people and you are not dear.

Puss In Boots has gone international this year – well it has gone over the border to Wales – to the fictional town of Poppity Ping. The story concerns itself with a wicked money-greedy Ogre, King Ivor (Mike Newbold) and Sir Hector The Tax Collector (Joe Butler) and the Welsh/Italian Pasta family. The Pasta family are Mia Pasta (Tilly Wishart), Colin Pasta (Emily Hope Wilkins), twins Marco Pasta (Patrick McCrystal) Benito Pasta (Laura Ellis) and Dame Penny Pasta (Mike Pearson). There are an incredible amount of corny pasta and pizza related jokes in the script all performed with relish by the cast. And a side helping of garlic bread.

Puss himself is performed by Mason Hart and he offers up a languorous slinky cat who, when he tries on the magic boots, we discover that he can talk and sing rather well. Who’d have thought? Me? How? Hart’s laid-back Puss and his amusing attitudes is one of the fun highlights of the show. Emily-Hope Wilkins is tremendous as cat-lover Colin Pasta. She bestrides the stage in her own thigh length boots with such confidence and a charming sense of fun and humour. Instantly likable is Tilly Wishart as Mia Pasta, another actor with bundles of energy, a good sense of absurdity and a strong singing voice. Laura Ellis and Patrick McCrystal as knock about twins Benito and Marco are winners with this reviewer and the children in the audience, who I suspect would like them to make even more of a big flour, eggs and water mess in the Pasta Mill ‘Messy Scene’ than they actually do.

Most pantos rely on their baddie characters to scare the audience (but often in a comical way) and the Puss In Boots baddie (Sir Hector The Tax Collector) is played by Joe Butler. She does a good job as the baddie given that the character is written as a bit of a one-note nasty.  After about the fourth time she appears on stage as the creepy Sir Hector the cheeky kids in the audience have picked up and echo her Sir Hector’s slimy “ Yeeeerse – you maaaagesty!” Then Sir Hector reveals quite another side to his character and evil motivations… Boo hiss!

Michael Pearson is natural for Panto Damehood this time as Dame Penny Pasta, a ‘Welsh Lady’ with a roving romantic eye for any handsome man in the audience and a fun collection of outrageous costumes and concern for her children and the Pasta Business. Pearson has an instantaneous rapport with the audience and his/her teamwork with the cast is very amusing even when he/she goes temporarily off book. Like with any good panto dame, it is fun to keep the cast on their toes as you all work through unexpected ‘situations’.

In this production there are two actors who share the role of Princess Bethan namely Megan Leahy and Charlotte Barrington. Today we have Charlotte Barrington as Princess Bethan, who like many a modern panto princess, is less about falling instantly in love and having a fairy tale marriage and more practical in her approach to life – albeit in a pantomime. She’s pasta all that nonsense. Springing up from time to time is Siân Hooton, delighting us with her helpful fairy – Vanessa the Shoe Fairy who turns on her magic wand to cast spells and casts spells herself with her balletic turns of feet. Joining the Puss In Boots cast are the excellent dancers in the adult and the young company who give the show such pizazz. As opposed to pizza.

Don’t go to this production if you are hungry as, aside from the endless pasta jokes, the glossy programme itself is full of lickable photos of pasta and pizza dishes! You would almost expect the panto ending (usually a shower of glitter or coloured paper landing on the grinning cast) to be amended to a shower of grated aged Pecorino Romano cheese. A penne for your thoughts?

Photo credit Martin Holtom

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