The Drayton Arms Theatre in SW5 is a firm favourite of mine with its reputation for delivering a mix of new writing, quirky productions and new takes on old classics. So I was delighted to see a pantomime featuring as part of its programming,
Puss in Boots is presented by Fat Rascal Theatre as an ‘alternative’ panto. Now, I’ll be honest, I have issues with ‘alternative’. For me, it’s as indifferent as ‘different’; as uninteresting as ‘interesting’. It doesn’t tell the audience anything other than the production is probably going to try and shock us, is going to be too clever for its own good or both. To be fair to Fat Rascal, as the programme notes state ‘who actually knows the story of Puss in Boots?’ So, I guess you could argue that the company has nothing to lose with this pitch.
The story itself, which is written, narrated and sung by the excellent Robyn Grant, is clever, witty and delivers on satire and entendres. Admittedly mostly single entendres but what’s a girl to do with Puss? But I would question the over-use of the C-bomb. Don’t get me wrong, ironically, I like a c**t as much as the next person. But simply shouting the word is neither clever nor funny.
Songs and musical interludes are well delivered and woven neatly into the intricate plot-line and props and set are used to good effect. I would have liked to have seen the whole thing played further up stage though as too much of the actors’ work is lost to shadows.
There are strong performances from Phoebe Batteson-Brown, a deliciously ditzy Princess Fififi and a convincingly butch Paul, and Allie Munro – a glorious hybrid of Mel and Sue – as Colin. With a C. Unfortunately our eponymous heroine, played by Rosie Raven, provides such a hard-nosed interpretation of Puss that the audience on the night I watched the show was clearly left cold. Engagement is key in panto, a fact that seemed lost on the night for this particular actor. Katie Wells as King George/Barry suffers a similar fate.
Puss in Boots certainly has its moments but despite the excellent writing these are too few and far between for the show to be truly coherent. The show is (cat) littered with inconsistencies that lead me to believe that the ‘alternative’ aspect of this production has more to do with the genre of pantomime itself than the story.