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

It's panto time . . . oh yes it is

Samuel Hopkins as Ali, Tony O'Hagan as Fatima, David Hirst as Sultan Pepper and Gemma Underwood as Rose

Ali Baba

Hall Green Little Theatre


PANTO is a peculiarly British institution. Ideally it should have jokes which have had time to, should we say, mature - and Hall Green managed a few that the serpent probably used in his patter to Eve as he tried to flog her the first Granny Smith's.

Then ideally it should have some corn, and Hall Green at times managed to rival the Jolly Green Giant in that department with the wait, Rose and shopping line - wait, Rose . . . Waitrose Geddit! – a particularly fine example which would make any audience groan . . . once it had been explained of course.

Then there is a need for silliness, a little slapstick - although Ali Baba was a bit light in that department – lines so puerile they would be rejected by an intellectually challenged cracker joke writer and a plot so thin it should be treated for anorexia.

And Hall Green managed to tick pretty well all the boxes as well as finding plenty of, probably, unintentional laughs and moments which had sections of the audience in stitches.

Which is perhaps another feature of panto by amateur theatre groups. It gives large numbers of members, 19 in this case, a chance to appear in a production with many able to let their hair down a little from more demanding serious roles.

It is also a chance for other members, friends and relatives to come along and support, cheer, take the micky and generally have a laugh with even the slightest error, and, from long experience on the spotlit side of the  footlights, panto does tend to breed whole armies of mistakes, creating a gold plated excuse for hoots of laughter.

A wrong sound effect in a dramatic production, for example, is a mistake that is noticed by an audience and can prey on the minds of actors. In panto, as here, in the right hands it is an extra laugh. For Tony O'Hagan as the roly-poly dame Fatima Baba it was a Godsend turning a mild titter at best about a plumbing job if it had been perfect into a belly laugh when it was all wrong and he milked it, and pretty well every other line he had, for all it was worth.

Set against him was the – boo, hiss – baddie Musthavcash played by Dean Taylor who also wrote and directed and who, to be fair, seems to have too much of a twinkle about him to be a really convincing villain, but this is panto, so what the heck.

Another panto staple is the comic duo and Amanda Grant as Wasim and Richard Allen as Isim grew into their roles as the night went on although Isim was one of a number who need to curb their enthusiasm for getting lines out as fast as they can and to listen before they speak.

Timing is both instinct and being aware of your audience and if they are laughing, for whatever reason, wait for the ebb or your lines are forever lost to posterity.

Living happily ever after as all panto love birds should, Ali Baba and his Rose

David Hirst was an imperious as Sultan Pepper – geddit! –  and his Wazir Daniel Robert Beaton should take a bow for knowing the steps of  all the dances he was involved in while Princesss Shesima, pet, could give Cheryl Cole a run for her money – in both looks and accent when she runs the Baghdad's Got Talent contest.

Marie White had the most difficult job of the night - remembering her name, Satimaluenta Navagalina - or you could call her Sat Nav for short. Perhaps more or less could have been made of that particular line of jokes.

The love interest – and every panto has to have a hint of it – comes from Samuel Hopkins as Ali Baba, a sort of Baghdad Rodders , and their servant girl Rose, Gemma Underwood, who is let go as the Baba family downsizes,  management speak for getting rid of her to save money.

Rose is then captured by Musthavcash so she can be rescued by Ali on their way towards living happily ever after.

Old Musthav's hideout has the obligatory cave with the open sesame boulder blocking the entrance and one of the biggest laughs of the night came when the two palace guards, Tim Wright and Connor Grant, were captured and imprisoned in the cave – and were then seen crawling off stage in the background then crawling back a few minutes later when they were rescued.

Whether it was intentional or not who cares, a laugh is a laugh, so keep it in.

Through it all where the forty four thieves – cutbacks hit everyone – William Garrett, Aron Bourke, Pascal Bourke and Matthew Burkett.

Stars of the show though are Kiara Peaches Mackay and Rachael Louise Pickard as Camila, the brilliant camel.

You would think it was the real thing, well actually you wouldn't, but it is highly imaginative Bactrian camel, two people, two heads, two humps . . . starting to get the picture . . .  which has a lovely head and provides enough laughs to earn its corn so full marks to Carmen Burkett and Louise Price for the costumes.

Bactrian camels are not actually found in Arabia but we will forgive that because Camila had a certain charm and that perhaps goes for the whole show from Mel Hulme's set designs  to excellent music from Geddes Cureton and Roy Palmer

It is not sophisticated, in unison is not something that is uppermost in the mind when it comes to the chorus numbers, it has bad jokes, daft lines and patter that would make a corpse groan, but it is full of enthusiasm, it is fun and, hey, it's not Shakespeare - it's panto. Oh yes it is.

Roger Clarke 

Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate