Group's last show proves to be a blast
Having attended only one previous Emergency Services Panto Group (ESPG) production and been pleasantly and unexpectedly surprised at how enjoyable it was, I have to admit to looking forward to this latest serving of amateur thespian comedy.
The storyline revolves around the theft of the town hall clock, resulting in time slowly grinding to a halt in Berwick.
Enter the larger-than-life duo of the Doctor and Amy Puddle, brilliantly portrayed by Jim Herbert and Nicola Foggon, to rescue the day. Jumping through the years, in their search for the ‘cog of time’, the Doctor and Amy visit scenes from previous ESPG productions – Death by Miss Adventure (2006), Cinderuso (2004), Star Wreck: The De-generation (2008), Maria: a Problem Solved (2005), and Barry Blotter and the Bedpan of Secrets (2009).
Congratulations should go to Victoria Hedges and Sophie Howard for the use of the Doctor and Amy as a device to tie all the otherwise unrelated scenes from previous productions into a single successful storyline.
The stage sets were simple and basic.
The Turdis, an acronym for Terribly Unclean Rapid Diversions In Script, was represented by a set board painted as a blue toilet block, a second long board painted with a brick design was representative of the Berwick bridges and walls and, finally, a centrally-located board stood in for the town hall.
Simplicity of design seems to be the name of the game when it comes to ESPG productions, allowing audiences to focus on the actors and plot while allowing for swift and minimal scene changes by the stage crew of Jennifer Wood, Sophie Howard and Tarn Chapman.
The materialisation and de-materialisation of the Turdis was intimated with the use of dimmed and strobed lights as well as a suitably Doctor Who-like sound effect punctuated by a solid toilet flush at the end, much to the audience’s amusement.
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Although appearing a little nervous to begin with, the amateur players soon settled down into their various characters, giving a very enjoyable production, which the audience participated in with much laughter, clapping and even dancing when the very popular tune Time Squawk was played.
Nicola Foggon, the show’s musical director, should receive a pat on the back for including what was undoubtedly the most popular participation number of the show from the audience point of view, and which perhaps resulted in Act 2 being, on the whole, a more relaxed and enjoyable section.
Fluffed lines abounded from the outset and, I must admit, sparked additional unscripted jokes and comebacks that enhanced this comic production. The entire cast should be congratulated on their imaginative and hilarious saves on each of these occasions.
It would be difficult to pick out individual star performances due to the diversity in subject of the scenes. Whether it be the anarchic gulls, Susan Dixon and Martin Warner, the collected and precise Sherlock Holmes, Malcolm Mace, or the flamboyant Doctor, Jim Herbert, each of the character portrayals was excellent in the context of the scene.
The standout scene, for me, however, had to be that of Barry Blotter and the Bedpan of Secrets.
Who will ever forget, having once seen it, Frazer Smilez confidently striding around the stage in a dress and heels, or Lydia, alias Julie Dudgeon, and Candida, played by Jacqui Hedges, dressed as schoolgirls and doing their best Catherine Tate schoolgirl impressions. Wonderfully and confidently acted with clearly spoken lines, this one scene had me wishing that I had seen the full production in 2009.
Sadly, with this pantomime, the final curtain goes down on the ESPG. After 20 years of shows and more than £76,000 raised, prior to this year’s show, for HospiceCare North Northumberland, the present crew of amateur thespians and writers have decided to call it a day, due to other commitments.
I am sure I am not alone in wishing the team well, although that is tempered with a sadness that there will be no future shows to look forward to.