The night was warmed up, as is tradition, with a short set from York’s premier Improv Troupe, The Shambles. Through a variety of scenes, songs and games, these performers had the crowd in stiches with strong performances from all five, showcasing their skill at improv with masterful staging and character work.
The night moved swiftly on to the first act of Dreaming Beauty, this year’s RAG Panto. It began with a scene familiar to those who know the story it’s based on, but it all changed from there. The foundations of brilliant characters were made in this scene, especially the King with Loussin Pikilian filling the shoes of the stupid, over-masculine boss character in a manner that would make Matt Berry jealous.
The happy scene is turned upside down when Panto Dame and Villain (aptly named) Grand Dame (Harry Morgan) bursts on the stage with great physicality and a deliciously evil voice. Alas at times throughout the Panto the script didn’t allow him to play the greater villain I’m confident he’s more than capable of.
The coupling of Rosa and the Stableboy (by Charlottes Howard and Vinsen) was performed to a tee, with both playing the adorable couple – that can’t but wants to be – incredibly well. The first standout performance of the night was in the first song (and indeed in every one she performed in) when Charlotte Howard’s marvellous voice was shown off and the audience blown away.
The highlight of Act One was the brilliant characterisation of Boris Johnson (Jacob Roth) and The Prince (Cameron Marklew). Roth and Marklew never once break character and improve every scene they’re in leaving the audience in tears laughing at nearly every line. I felt that both characters were underused, especially Marklew’s as he was shoehorned as the ‘lad’ character and these constraints stopped him being the comedy character his talents deserved.
However, the script often relied too heavily on pop-culture references (which the audience as a whole could not always appreciate). This was a shame because the jokes created in the world of Dreaming Beauty were by far the strongest and it was sad to see a production, which had created such a strong, imaginative world, frequently feel the need to rely on our own. The problems in the script were less evident in Act One where better pacing and stronger jokes from the comedy characters were saving graces – graces which were less seen in Act Two.
Act Two did tend to drag on, but a huge credit to the two multi-rollers Ethan Main and Stephen Harrison, whose myriad of different characters provided much needed breaths of fresh air. Theirs was a compilation of fantastic comedy sketches amid an Act whose structure was manic and hard to follow.
Aspects which remained constant were the high quality of singing: Howard, Morgan, and Annie Lester (playing the Queen) were particularly memorable, and the choreography by Bethan Thomas & Emma Brock was some of the most interesting I’ve seen in Panto.
All in all a strong, talented cast with an obviously highly skilled crew did their best to work with a script that felt rushed and left the audience wanting more from a more than capable group of people.