Ah, pantomime. The long standing British tradition of musical comedy, light-hearted kid friendly gags, audience participation, cross-dressing actors, and slapstick humour. A staple in the British festive period and fun for all the family. But have you ever attended a panto where you’re invited to throw bricks (fake, obviously) at the villain, or shout ‘I love your pussy’ at a main character? No? Nor had I, until I saw Fat Rascal Theatre’s very loose adaptation of Puss In Boots.
Certainly not suitable for children, this panto for adults has it all. Crude jokes, ridiculous songs, and brilliant improvised scenes requiring audience participation. With book and lyrics written by Robyn Grants, accompanied by music from James Ringer-Beck, it’s a fresh and slightly filthy retelling of a time-old tale. Grant as the narrator drives the piece along with her belting voice and infectious humour. Allie Munro is equally as engaging as Colin, the gormless ‘hero’ of the story with the attention span of a spoon; as is Rosie Raven as Puss, a suave and sophisticated talking feline.
Katie Wells is fabulously gross and utterly hilarious as Trump-inspired King George – the evil monarch plotting to build walls around the entire Kingdom to protect the peasants (sorry, people) from meeting the same gory fate as the King’s late wife and Princess Fififi’s (Phobe Batteson-Brown) mother; being killed by the ogre.
The cast’s multi-rolling becomes complicated and rushed as they flit through character after character, but it is never unclear. Any mishaps are laughed off with the audience – the fourth wall is smashed within the first few minutes. Ringer-Beck plays a reliable and under-appreciated Basbey, the King’s Squire, whilst simultaneously accompanying the whole production on the keys playing the music he wrote, with Vito Guerrieri on percussion. With the entirety of the cast fulfilling so many different roles, it is a wonder they remember it all and that it runs so smoothly. They make good use of simple props and a low budget, using painted sheets to resemble a wall that encircles the whole stage, and holding blown up balloons with faces on as ‘people’ when playing a crowd of villagers; comically popping them to represent a death at the hands of King George’s regime.
Grant’s writing is simply brilliant. She is undeniably talented. After receiving rave reviews for Buzz earlier this year – a musical about the history of the vibrator (that I’m sad to have missed) – I was excited to see what she had created next, and Puss in Boots doesn’t disappoint. Re-writing a story so well-known with current references, and a twist of feminism, made it refreshing.
Crammed with witty and intelligent observations of today’s political and social climate, it strays far away from the traditional family-friendly panto and into potentially risqué territory. But it pays off – there is never a dull moment. If you don’t mind the odd joke that goes a bit too far, and enjoy topical tongue-in-cheek humour, this is the pantomime for you.
Puss in Boots is playing at the The Drayton Arms Theatre until 7 January. For more information and tickets, see The Drayton Arms Theatre.