Yesterday, I became exhausted through being sung at!
My friend Carol came down from Newcastle and we met at Stratford Circus for a cup of tea before going to see Red Riding Hood at the Theatre Royal. Her son's girlfriend, Chloe Allen, was playing the title role, and when we got into the auditorium the Three Little Pigs were already busy, using up the energy of about 500 primary-school children who smelled of pencils and school sweatshirts and who snapped, crackled and popped like a bowl of Rice Crispies, busy little mini-people with plaits, braids, crew cuts, curls, ponytails, and predominantly red jumpers.
The curtain rose, and the full-on production started, introducing us to a fabulous Big Bad Wolf (I'm, very, very, very, very VERY bad!) with a deep and booming wolf-voice, a bouncing and delightful Red Riding Hood, her sister Big Blue (very streetwise), their rockabillyish mother (fantastic swearing- bleepin' this and bleepin' that!) and my favourite, the tranny granny, a very glamorous Afro-Caribbean pantomime dame who made new-best-friends with Mrs Amos, a teacher in the front row, and pretended to text her all the way through the show, which was a very effective running gag. There was a Woodman who was rather Shoreditch, if you know what I mean, but this is London and all London was there in this show.
I wanted to adopt the granny and take her home because she had just the right blend of irreverence and authority, and actually I found her rather similar to my own Gran! I loved the bit where she put courgette slices over her eyes instead of cucumber: 'Recline, apply, relax!' she advised us. We roared with laughter.
The children loved her and her quips. 'So gorgeous, I frighten myself', she purred at her reflection in the imaginary mirror (actually she was looking at the Big Bad Wolf mimicking her). And inside the Wolf's stomach, she told us all 'What goes in, must come out', to the delighted squeals of the mini-audience.
She was the only person in the show to get a song that was in the right key for her to sing, and who had the voice to overcome the far-too-loud music. sHe had a very impressive singing voice, actually, and
what a surreal moment- a lover's rock song sung from inside the belly of a wolf by an Afro-Caribbean cross-dresser! This is why I love pantomime!
But there were far too many songs in the second half. You began to think, 'Not another bloody song!' The Stomach Acid sang an acid house song (how do primary school children know how to dance to rave music?), which we didn't really need, but there were still some funny bits- the way the cast all jumped at once as the wolf got hiccups, for instance. And the Woodsman's song about his axe where he rhymed along the lines of 'Even though I've only got a tiny chopper, I can do much more with it than if I had a whopper'. Fnurr, fnurr!
The energy level was high all the way through, and it was an exceedingly good-natured production with fantastic engagement with the audience of tinies, who loved every second of it.
Chloe was great- energetic and with a good strong voice. I just wish the sound technician had allowed us to hear more of the other singers!
The second show was A Taste of Saturday Night, where Carol's son Nik Alevroyiannis, who is a talented percussionist, was playing drums in the house band. The theatre was above a pub called The Gatehouse in Highgate, and the seating was arranged so that the audience sat in rows facing each other with the performance taking place in the middle.
It was a completely different sort of show from the panto, consisting of pastiches (very good ones) of Sixties favourites, and a lame storyline based on a group of teenage boys and a group of teenage girls attempting to get sex from each other, or not, as the Saturday evening at the club progresses.
The musicians and singers were tremendously talented: there were lovely harmonies and flawless vocal performances with not a trace of that awful 'show' timbre, and they were extremely well-rehearsed.
The problem was the subject matter. After about four songs about bonking, you got fed up of it, and you knew there was a whole night of it to come. It became really tedious, because there wasn't really a story apart from that and you didn't get to know or sympathise with any of the characters. I felt that this particular show was wasting the considerable talents of the actors and musicians on a really cruddy and lazy script.
However, a lot of the audience would have disagreed with me, because they were clapping and laughing all the way through. But a good band like this, and good singers... well, I felt that they could have been given a much better show to do. Hats off to all of them for being 100% committed to it, anyway.