Monday 11 December 2023

Stage: Somewhere ogre the rainbow

Puss in Boots
by Tim McArthur, Lucy Penrose
director Tim McArthur
with Nyah Randon, Lucy Penrose, Andrew Lambe, Adam Rhys-Davies, Connor McGrane, Oli Ross
produced by Above the Stag
Wonderville, London • 4-31.Dec.23

By their very nature, British pantomimes are chaotic and silly, and Above the Stag has tilted even more intently in that direction this year. Instead of their usual queer theatrical pantos, this high-spirited show has a more cabaret-style approach, like a group of talented friends getting together to put on a show in the town hall, making it up as they go. Bursting with Broadway energy, it has an amusingly ramshackle, rambling plot and layers upon layers of riotous innuendo.

In a nutshell, the story centres around Master Baker (Penrose), who teams up with Puss (Randon) after the ogre Kevin (Rhys-Davies), in a rage because Puss killed his brother, turns the Prince (McGrane) into a chicken. They get help from fellow baker Dame Fanny (Lambe) to raid Kevin's lair and reverse the curse. Of course, nothing goes as planned, everyone is misunderstood, and there's a wedding on the cards.

With freewheeling glee, the action is continually interrupted by big musical numbers and a range of random twists and turns that begin to feel a bit torturous. Dialog is peppered with pointed political jokes and witty song references, and both the lyrics and choreography delight in smutty double entendre while playing hilariously with theatrical traditions. Through it all, the engaging, up-for-it performers have a lot of fun with their characterisations, enthusiastically embracing costume changes, disguises and multiple roles that make it feel like there are 10 people in the cast.

Quite a bit of this is laugh-out-loud funny, including the way the songs are bent into the story, from musical theatre classics like Tomorrow and A Wonderful Day Like Today to baking-themed pop tunes including Whip It Real Good and Girls Just Wanna Make Buns. Each of the performers is terrific, while the preternaturally talented Penrose steals the show with her astonishing musical range and skilful comedy timing as she plays Master Baker while puppeteering the chicken-prince. She even gets a fabulous break-out number all her own.

The show is so chirpy that we don't much mind the dopey gags that don't quite land, and the energy is so high that we go along with a couple of songs that seem endless in their round-and-round repetition. It's all so relentlessly, disarmingly ridiculous that we rather enjoy the convoluted gyrations of the nonsensical narrative. By the end, we're singing and dancing with the cast, delighted that it seems like it might never end.

For information, ABOVE THE STAG >

photos by Gaz@PBGStudios • 10.Dec.23

No comments: