REVIEW: Footlights Panto 2016: Rumpelstiltskin

Just the way to round off your term.

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Ahh, the Footlights Panto. Arguably the biggest and most dazzling show of the year.  This year’s incarnation of song, dance, humour and seasonal favourites was no exception.

This is a bold marriage of festive charm and Cambridge eccentricity.

From the off, we are transported to the Austrian town of Alpenberg, to the beer tavern of Otto and to the mysterious forest that lies beyond. Without giving too much away, the audience is treated to a gold obsessed mad king, a tavern girl in search of love, multinational lumberjacks, a lush welsh dame, and a member of an insurgent bicycle powered delivery company.

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Credit: Amelia Oakley

The script, excellently crafted by Hayden Jenkins, Mark Bittlestone and Declan Amphlett was big, bold and sidesplittingly hilarious in places. It’s highly euphemistic, charmingly satirical but above all else just very Cambridge. A few jokes failed to hit the mark and the plot in areas can go a bit haywire. But hey, its the Panto. We’re neither wanting nor asking for a walkthrough narrative.

As a company, the cast showcase the best of Cantab theatre. Whatever niggles on delivery there were (and there were some) the acute professionalism, expert improvisation and engrained humour of the cast meant that I could just sit back and enjoy what was before me.

Honourable mentions are a bit of a redundant exercise for a show like this, but highlights included Henry Wilkinson‘s maddening King Bruno, Robin Franklin‘s charming Otto, Eve Delaney as heroine Frida, Zak Ghazi-Torbati as the brash and brilliant dame and the marvellous William Ashford as the title character, who lay someway between  the Grinch and Jean Valjean.

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Eve Delaney as Frida and Henry Wilkinson as King Bruno

Direction, headed up by Lucy Moss and Lily Lindon, was super slick, the natural humorous talents of all the actors really coming to fruition under truly professional direction. The band, led by Leo Popplewell, also worked a treat providing a charming soundtrack to the show. Getting a show like this from script to stage is evidently a huge operation, but the cast and crew of over 120 have truly pulled out all the stops.

No more so than on the set, which is singularly the best exhibit of technical theatre I have seen in Cambridge. On entering the ADC, you are greeted with a beautifully crafted alpine forest that, by the genius of a revolving stage, transforms into the gothic castle of King Bruno. This truly blew me away. No surprises, then, that my jaw hit the literal floor when a giant golden maypole descended from the roof.

The Panto is famed for having a huge bugdet, but it was clear that the crew used every penny to perfection. The technical team are truly worth their weight in straw spun gold.

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The cast and crew of the 2016 CUADC/Footlights Panto

Star rating a show like this seems unnecessary. It’s the Panto. We go to laugh, to boo, to cheer, to indulge in festive fun and (if you’re sitting in the front row) to get pulled up on stage and humiliated with good jest. This year is no exception.

So put this on your Bridgemas list. Thespian elves at the ADC box office tell me they’re releasing limited tickets at lunchtime on the day of performance. Get one while you can. It’s a treat.

4/5 stars