Babes in the Wood

December 10, 2022 | By More

★★★★☆     Fantastic fun

Church Hill Theatre: Fri 9 – Sun 18 Dec 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

If you are hankering for a proper family panto after missing out in recent years, you could hardly do better than Edinburgh People’s Theatre’s Babes in the Wood, at the Church Hill until Sunday 18th December.

After a Covid-enforced break spoiled their enviable unbroken festive run, EPT have roared back with the sort of traditional pantomime that should surely have a preservation order slapped on it.

Lynsey Spence, Jessica Howie, Derek Ward, Kai Brown, Carol Bryce. Pic Graham Bell

Not that there is anything hidebound about it; it is just that the good-humoured fun on display should be made available to all ages in perpetuity. An old-fashioned Dame, a thigh-slapping Principal Boy, gentle and unforced audience participation, song and dance, local references, jokes both corny and surprisingly funny (and even sweetie-throwing!) are all in evidence.

Nowadays some pantomimes seek to undermine themselves, or are even put on by people who neither understand nor even like the form. Done properly, however, it is such an adaptable genre that it can accommodate almost anything you choose. And whether it is just because it is a relief to see pantos back after the last two years, this seems warmer and more full of fun than ever.

That it is so impressive – or even taking place at all – is remarkable, with Peter Horsfall moving from the technical side to the pit at the last moment to cover for MD Barrie Simcock. Since Simcock’s keyboards and Duncan Clark’s effervescent drumming make the entire band for a show featuring music throughout, this is no small task. A couple of understandably hesitant transitions aside, you would never have known anything was up.

stalwart

Rather than being an off-the-shelf affair, this script is one by EPT stalwart John Somerville, veteran of countless productions before his passing in 2021. There are a couple of jokes referring to more recent events, but otherwise this is a fine tribute to Somerville’s ear for humour and comedy knowhow.

Robin Hood, often inserted into this story, is conspicuous by his absence, although Carol Bryce’s costume does hint at him.

EPT Babes in the wood

Gemma Dutton, Peter Morrison and Anne MacKenzie. Pic Graham Bell

This version of the story of the evil uncle and aunt who hire robbers to dispatch the babes to inherit their fortune, is more coherent than many pantomimes, while still making room for all of the necessary routines.

It also shares out the stage time between a large number of performers – with more than half of the 26-strong ensemble having featured roles. The constant rotation of characters also speaks volumes about the script’s elegant construction, but might cause problems for many companies; here it is negotiated with apparent ease.

This, of course, is largely due to Mandy Black’s direction, energetic yet highly sympathetic, and making excellent use of the whole auditorium. Every character seems well thought out and even oddly believable. The chorus are supremely well-drilled, with the various musical numbers, whether original or rewritten, of ideal length.

constantly engaging

Peter Morrison’s ‘daft laddie’ Jack is constantly engaging, establishing an excellent rapport with the audience and never thrown by the pitfalls of interviewing children (of all ages) on stage. Derek Ward’s Nurse Isla White is also extremely impressive, never going too far over the top.

Carol Bryce’s Principal Boy and Lynsey Spence as love interest Morag have, on close inspection, nothing whatsoever to do with the plot. However, they are beautifully played, and cleverly used, notably in the traditional audience shout-outs.

Ray Pattie, Lyzzie Dell, Graham Bell snd Alistair Brown. Pic; Graham Bell

Ray Pattie and Lyzzie Dell ooze nastiness as the Baron and Baroness, Pattie all deep-voiced menace, and Dell a glacial amorality. They never go too far in the scariness, however, and provide a useful foil to their ludicrous daughters Nausea and Dyspepsia, played with infectious glee by Anne Mackenzie and Gemma Dutton.

Graham Bell and Alistair Brown are a tremendous double act as the hired crooks Dombey and Son, with Bell’s conniving and Brown’s endless spoonerisms dovetailing very well. Helen Hammond and Stephanie McIntyre’s fairy duo are also pitched just right.

The two youngsters playing the ‘Babes’ Callum and Kirsty, Kai Bruce and Jessica Howie, are clearly already accomplished performers, with their singing impressing – to say nothing of the high-kicking dancing. They also feature prominently in a cleverly staged UV sequence.

There is so much going on that the first half in particular flies by, which is not always the case in pantos. There is such a pace and momentum to the production that nothing can derail it, even the well-meaning chaos that proper pantomimes always find time to include near the end.

On the technical side, this is more accomplished than it has any right to be, with obvious care taken over the sets, costumes and props. There is just as much love invested in the onstage action, in a production that is old-fashioned entertainment in all the right ways.

Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes (including one interval)
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Friday 9 – Sunday 18 December 2022
Tues – Fri at 7.00 pm, Sat and Sun at 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

Company website: http://ept.org.uk
Facebook: @EdinburghPeoplesTheatre
Instagram: @epeoplestheatre.
Twitter @EPeoplesTheatre.

ENDS

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Comments (1)

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  1. Iain Fraser says:

    Having not seen the full production yet, I am now soooo looking forward to it after this lovely review. Well done to all involved – both onstage and off. Another triumph.