Circa Theatre
Nov 15-Dec 21 | Reviewed by Kate Blackhurst

PANTOMINE is recipe theatre; if you put in all the correct ingredients it comes out exactly as advertised, with no surprises, unpleasant or otherwise.

Take one old tale/legend/nursery rhyme and give it a new twist. Here we have Red Riding Hood – note, it is not Little Red Riding Hood, as she is no longer a little girl but a young lady with a hooded tracksuit and headphones who jogs through the forest, brightly played by Danielle Mason with grin wattage turned up high. She wants to study zoology which she knows ‘may not earn a great living but it will be an interesting life’.

Add a potential love interest who is bound to get the wrong end of the stick but eventually save the day. This role is filled admirably by Nic Sampson as Lance, a young DOC worker who loves birds of the feathered variety, strums a guitar as he wanders through the woods, falls in love at the mere sight of a young maiden, and looks uncannily like Richie McCaw.

Introduce a pantomime dame: granny with a zimmer frame who can walk (and dance) far better than she lets on. She claims she keeps herself supple with Pilates, ‘which is like yoga but three times more expensive’. Grandma Hood is Julian Wilson, who manages to carry this off so well that he looks like he is actually enjoying wearing a wig, bonnet and flannelette bloomers. He is charming with the audience and the little kids and their adult companions all love him immediately.

There must also be a pantomime villain who is played with moustache-twirling exuberance by Gavin Rutherford as Sir Roger Bounder. He attempts to seduce the women out of their property, knock it down, and subdivide – ‘Why build one house when you can build four?’ He races up and down the stage with such enthusiasm that an elderly couple next to me were fanning themselves with their programmes and commenting, ‘It’s very energetic, isn’t it?’

Sprinkle a dose of local references: the wood is The Sanctuary; Grandmother lives on the sunny side – Karori – while her daughter, Dahlia (Donna Akersten), lives on the dark side – Brooklyn; ‘well anywhere that backs onto Happy Valley must be suspicious’. Sir Roger wants to cut down all the trees to get a better view (the bounder!) and he has obtained planning permission from Penderblast.

Mix in an ‘alarming situation’ that can get all the children – young and not-so-young – squealing with supposed fright. This is well served by the wolf escaping from Wellington zoo into the Sanctuary. In his furry wolf-suit with his big floppy ears and glowing red eyes, the wolf (Paul Jenden) is so cute, he couldn’t scare anyone, even if he is behind you; oh no he isn’t; oh yes he is, etc.

A comedy duo are optional and here they are represented by Morris (Jane Waddell) and Boris (Jude Gibson) who keep the audience entertained with slapstick humour as they try out a number of roles in order to satisfy WINZ after loosing their jobs as MPs. As they turn their hand to wait-persons (political correctness comes in for some abuse in this show), zookeepers, and woodcutters their scenes, although almost entirely irrelevant to the main action, are among the highlights of the show.

The musician (Michael Nicholas Williams) and vocalist (Jessica Graham) seated on the side of the stage are also excellent. They provide the sound effects for the various endangered birds – including the coconut shells for the saddlebacks; it’s an oldie but a goodie. Graham’s vocals are a delight and they need to be as none of the rest of the cast (with the exception of Julian Wilson who has a marvellous vocal range) can actually sing.

The songs are atrocious and the dances are out of time, and although the young audience don’t seem to mind, it is cringe-worthy each time someone plumps grandmother’s pillows with erratic shakes like the wheels have fallen off their lambada. When the children are invited on stage to accompany Lance singing his song about morepork, it is a relief to listen to some new voices.

Blend in some tired clichés – all women are desperate for a man – and a dash of innovative staging – the ‘remote control’ bed is the best gag of the performance. Serve with a dollop of moral sweetness – the pantomime ends with a tree-hugging song about turning your rage into flowers and making them into a bouquet while changing your angry words into birds and letting them fly away, or some such.

And there you have it – one pantomime to order, exactly as you were expecting. If you come to have fun, you will, but it won’t ruin your appetite or spoil your dinner.