Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Old King Cole

Hall Green Little Theatre


Imagine Lewis Carroll, assisted by Benny Hill and Monty Python, had been commissioned by Cbeebies to write a sequel to Waiting for Godot as a sort of cartoon strip.

That gives you some idea, not a lot admittedly, of what to expect with this, should we say, eccentric HGLT production. It is surreal, supremely daft, impossible to catagorise - and great fun

It was written in 1967 by Ken Campbell during his time as actor and resident dramatist at the Victoria Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent when he was looking for a children’s Christmas show and was told he could write what he liked as long as it had a famous title.

He said: “I looked through nursery rhymes and came across Old King Cole and then gave it a Beano and Dandy feel. At the time it was a revolutionary children's Christmas play as most were adaptations of Grimm tales or pantomimes.”

His comic strip treatment produces a family show full of invention, silly stunts and childish glee, a real alternative to panto, although it cannot escape completely from the world of Oh yes it is, O no it isn’t.

The cast is led by Daniel Robert Beaton who revels in the role of Faz, Faz being a sort of wide boy, wheeler-dealer, Mr Fixit looking like a bookies' runner who has escaped from a circus.

Twoo and FAz

Jack Heath as Twoo with Daniel Robert Beaton and the famed sausage box

Beaton is in his element in comedy and quickly built up a rapport with the audience, and jollied things along with constant quips and ad libs.

His number two in this enterprise was Twoo, a congenital idiot with an IQ surpassed by his age somewhere around puberty. It is a lovely performance from Jack Heath who manages a wonderful beam of enlightenment whenever he manages to grasp some simple fact – which isn’t that often.

Twoo has a wonderful coat of not only many colours but many pockets with pretty well anything you could ask for secreted away from jam rolls to shears to pulley wheels. He reminded me of a guide in Marrakesh on a Press trip some years ago who had bottles of gin, vodka, whisky . . . pretty well any spirit you could mention, along with several brands of cigarettes, cigars, sun lotion and even prophylactics all hidden away in a multitude of pockets in his flowing Arab cloak – a regular mobile corner offy.

But back to the plot, yes there is one, where Faz and Twoo are employed by Baron Wadd who is after the hand of Old King Cole’s daughter Daphne who in turn is the star prize in a sporting contest organised by the merry old soul that was he – note that little nursery rhyme reference . . .

The only problem is that Wadd is only a couple of percentage points brighter than Twoo and is to sport what bricks are to swimming. Useless would be an improvement, and his wimpish, weedy ability, or rather lack of it, was not helped, incidentally, by Richard Scott carrying an injury suffered in a performance over the weekend which has left him limping. The show must go on though and such was his deft performance I doubt anyone in the audience noticed.

Wadd has asked Faz and Twoo to help him defeat the bookies’ favourite in the nine-event sporting challenge, Cyril the fiddler, one of the three such violinists for those who know their nursery rhymes.

wadd and cyril

Richard Scott as Baron Wadd, with Ryan Knight as the referee-cum-commentator and rippling-muscled, sporting superstar (Is that right? Ed) Cyril, played by Matt Ludlam

Cyril, the sporting superstar is played by Matt Ludlam, who cleverly keeps his well-honed, toned, six-packed Adonis-like physique well-hidden, as in ‘are you sure’, beneath a vest and red pants. He is cocky and the obvious winner despite Faz and Twoo’s failed attempts to fix the contest, not helped by Wadd and Twoo having combined intellects approaching that of a pebble.

It is all announced by the commentator and chief Cyril fan played by Ryan Knight, who also pops up as a vicar.

With Wadd defaulting, chased by Faz having removed an arrow from his earhole, Cyril is declared the victor and his prize is Princess Daphne who has a reputation for being silly. Well-earned it turns out as she reduces the average IQ of the cast by several points in the capable hands of Rachael Louise Pickard who is developing quite a talent for comedy, particularly dizzy blondes..

The only problem is Daphne doesn’t want to marry Cyril, which brings us to Faz’s plan B, to use his famed paraphernalia to disrupt and stop the wedding.

That actually succeeds, except Daphne doesn’t want to marry Wadd either, she wants to marry . . . you will have to turn up to find out, but as a clue, if their children are blessed with double their combined IQs they will still be half wits.

And their grandparents will be David Hirst as the merry old soul, Old King Cole in a jolly impressive uniform with Louise Price as the less merry Old Queen Cole who spends most of her time either looking for or chastising Daphne.

The production has plenty of clever props including a Heath Robinson affair of a rat trap that involves a suitcase, a long pole, a coat stand, a table, lots of string and a flying sausage – there are a lot of sausages involved throughout the production.

Twoo and Daphne

Love's sweet . . . lollipop. Twoo and Princess Daphne, played by Rachael Louise Pickard

Then there is the Cyril dazing trap involving pulleys, more string, a ton weight and a washing machine . . . don’t ask. The props and set seem to have been constructed by Alan Giles, John Bourbonneux and Julie Williams and painted by Freddie Remington.

Daniel Ashford on sound had plenty to do as did Linda Neale on lights while Jean Wilde, Stella K Smith and Catherine Gell have done a fine job on costumes. It is directed, incidentally, by Roy Palmer, who played Faz in HGLT’s last production of the play . . . some 35 years ago, in the last century!

Youngsters, and those who can remember Beano and Dandy from their youth with the likes of Dennis the Menace, The Bash Street Kids, Desperate Dan and so on, will know that reality in comic strips has a different logic to the real world, after all that is their appeal, this fantasy world of fun.

And it is that youthful glee in the silly, downright daft, mad as a hatter world of Old King Cole that the cast bring to life.

It is all helped by the Fazettes, Emily Beaton, Megan Metthews, Debbie Donnelly, Jess Donelly and Charlotte Crowe acting as stage hands as well as announcing locations and, boxing style, scores in the contest.

Despite the cast almost outnumbering the audience, which is a great pity with such a fun, family show, the cast, to their credit, still put everything into it, but in a show crying out for youngsters and numbers with so much audience participation, such as votes, shouted warnings, help in traps and the rest, it made it harder work for both cast and audience and both rose splendidly to the occasion.

Old King Cole started life as an alternative to panto, and with no Christmas tradition to speak off, it easily slots in as a summer family show aimed at children – think Beano and Dandy and that is both the style and ideal age range. It’s inventive, harmless, daft fun. To 22-07-17

Roger Clarke


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