“a super night’s entertainment to be enjoyed by all”
The Producer before the start of this show asks the audience to ‘go ballastic’ and the packed house duly obliges, knowing just when the right times are to boo and cheer, and gives the show a worthy ovation at the end of the evening.
And I am not surprised, for this is a wonderful family show, directed by Michael Gattrell, and performed by a very strong cast. The singing is powerful, the dancing is energetic. There isn’t a great deal of plot or tension, but this is panto! The show programme offers just a ten-sentence plot synopsis but there is so much more going on here and for those expecting a show within the tradition of Christmas pantomime, this production ticks all the boxes.
Matt Crosby as Widow Twankey sets the standard for the show. Batting his over-large eye lashes in a rendition of “Hanky-Panky” (it rhymes with Twankey!), he sings in confident gravelly bass tones, and we know we are going to be in safe hands.
Aladdin (Carl Au) is a wide-eyed dreamer with a Scouse accent. Both Au and Isaac Stanmore as Wishy-Washy, in a delightfully over-the-top performance, show cheeky charm and play well together. A messy laundry slapstick scene involving Twankey and Wishy-Washy is a highlight of the evening for many.
Rolan Bell as Abanazar devilishly milks his inner villain, declaiming rhyming couplets in velvety tones. Flashes and smoke bombs welcome his every entry.
Princess Poppy (Megan-Hollie Robertson) is the necessary love interest but she and Aladdin need to work a little more on their spark if we are to believe in their secret love.
The all-important Genie is played by Jak Allen-Anderson as a very tall, acrobatic game show host whilst Aiesha Pease is The Spirit of the Ring who helps move along the plot and enjoys some powerful soul numbers.
All the principals get their own moment in the spotlight in this show and all sing brilliantly. Au excels in his ballad as he flies on the magic carpet to rescue the Princess. There is some nice stage craft here too though Aladdin needs to relax more into it. The most surprising turn of the evening is Abanazar’s rock inspired solo “I Want it All” but the standout song of the show, amongst several contenders, is Poppy’s poignant solo as she looks to find the confidence to start living her life, beautifully performed by Robertson.
The stage comes alive in each of the full ensemble numbers. With music from a live four-piece pit band (Musical Director Dean McDermott) and singing reinforced by a six-strong ensemble led by the ever-smiling Dance Captain Hettie Pearson, the dance choreography by Kevan Allen is effective and performed with high energy throughout.
Writer Al Lockhart-Morley provides an engaging script with strong and funny repartee. There is a small amount of innuendo for the older ones in the audience to knowingly chuckle at, but this show isn’t smutty. And there are no politics either. Otherwise, with just a few references to lockdown, there is an endless flow of the corniest cracker jokes, puns and amusing word play. Gently mocking references to local Cambridge amenities draw appreciative laughs.
This production is a super night’s entertainment to be enjoyed by all. Princess Poppy says at one point, “it is incredible, but it isn’t true” and that could apply to this whole idea of pantomime. But this is the season for it, and that is just fine. Oh yes, it is.
“all credit to the Finborough for once again recovering a work of such significance”
A pulsating rhythm and elegant lyricism pervade the English premiere of the unsettling and darkly comic “On McQuillan’s Hill” at the Finborough Theatre.
It causes a double-take because the content of Joseph Crilly’s 2000 play is far from calm and tranquil – indeed, the politics and passion behind its Northern Ireland setting would make one expect something more explosive.
But in this well-observed work everything is far more subtle, with tension simmering beneath the surface as six characters meet in an isolated community hall in rural Ulster after an IRA prisoner is released under the Good Friday agreement. It’s a drama where the shadow of sectarian violence somehow sits comfortably alongside news of a farmer who has grown a record-breaking cucumber.
The play was first performed at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, 20 years ago and it is unbelievable that such a truthful, ravishing and sometimes savage drama should have taken so long to cross the Irish Sea. So all credit to the Finborough for once again recovering a work of such significance.
An essentially uneasy domestic melodrama focussing on the Maline family slices into deeper themes of the bitter aftermath of the Troubles, malignant family history, sexuality, incest, guilt, betrayal and the legacy of ultimately futile conflict.
It’s an astonishing blend of brutality and beauty and while London may not fully comprehend the boldness and courage of that original Belfast production it’s hard to miss a rumbling contemporary resonance even as hard borders and political impasse hit the headlines.
Every character is distinctively painted in the text but director Jonathan Harden and an exemplary cast explore even greater depths to the always three dimensional roles. Behind the near mythical ambience there lie utterly credible characters. These are never less than real people with genuine lives and backgrounds.
At its heart are members of a dysfunctional family who in another world would be the subjects of a soap opera. Johnny Vivash is terrifically grizzled as the less than successful terrorist Fra Maline, a closet homosexual keen to find out why he was betrayed by former colleagues and more interested in rekindling a relationship with his ill-suited yet loyal lover Dessie (an edgy Kevin Murphy) than with his sister.
It is his sister Loretta (an emotionally charged Gina Costigan) who has bought the hall intending to convert it, but her reappearance after 20 years lifts the lid off a tureen of dark family secrets, including the long-questioned parentage of daughter Theresa (a charming and fiery Julie Maguire).
Into the mix comes the ex IRA commander Ray (a stirring and passionate Declan Rodgers)whose personal life trumps political ideology, while hovering in the background is formidable hall caretaker Mrs Tymelly (a quietly forceful Helena Bereen, who was in the original 2000 production).
Harden comprehends the unlikely humour and harsh undercurrents of this story, allowing the honesty of both story and performances to take centre stage.
The set (Norman Coates) is every inch the community hub of the past, destined to be pulled down, testimony to a discomforting past, with dimming bulbs and the detritus of past celebrations. A sombre portrait of Irish nationalist leader Robert Emmet gazes down from the wall, a reminder of past hopes and lost causes.
“On McQuillan’s Hill” still has the capacity to shock but this quality revival never loses sight of the human stories, a knowing sense of humour, and the beating heart of a nation seeking a new chapter in a troubled history.