Alice in Pantoland

Alice in Pantoland 24th to 26th January 2013 at the Memorial Hall in Royal Wootton Bassett. It was written by WBLOS member Elli Smart, and was directed by Ros Vickers with assistance from Mike Davies, Megan Crocker and Elli Smart.

Here is the NODA report in full – congratulations to all!


Wootton Bassett Light Operatic Society, Wootton Bassett Town Hall

Director: Ros Vickers; Musical Director: Pip Honour

Thursday 24th January 2013

Graeme Savage reports:

A trip to Wootton Bassett is rapidly becoming one of the most enjoyable evenings of the District 14 pantomime season. Guaranteed a show with lots of energy and enthusiasm, plenty of audience interaction, always some quirky and original aspects, a warm welcome from cast and company, and best of all, a group showing improvement and development with every visit.

Talking of quirky, there can be few pantomimes this year that have opened with a James Bond theme rather than Gangnam Style, and fewer still that would choose something as obscure as You Only Live Twice, but this set the tone for the original and magical story that we were about to be told, thanks to Elli Smart’s treatment of the well loved story. Alice in Pantoland took Lewis Carroll’s heroine and transported her to ‘Pantoland’, cleverly weaving the famous characters into a pantoesque story, and introducing a Dame and pantomime prince seamlessly into the famous Wonderland adventure. Elli’s script was a remarkable achievement for a young, first-time writer and allied to Ros Vickers’ experience and unfussy direction, made for a lively and straightforward story (often a rarity in pantos which can get bogged down with too much exposition, too many characters, etc.) At times early on there were a few too many reminders that we were watching a panto, but it’s just a personal quibble of mine, and once the story really kicked in, the script rattled along with few distractions. The characters and story developed well, and there were some wonderful moments – not least, the very moving finale, as Alice and Ralph waved goodbye to their new found friends; a refreshing change from the traditional panto walkdown and ‘happily ever after’ ending.
The age range of this company is (putting it politely!) wider than many societies, but what is impressive is not only that all of the company are working hard, but also that they are visibly supporting and encouraging each other, a real company atmosphere that comes over to the audience. Deanna Aspell led the cast confidently as the title character, and struck up a lovely rapport with Andrew Johnson’s Ralph, who is visibly growing in confidence and relaxing more as a performer with each production. They were given strong support from Sheila Dunn’s wonderfully boo-able Queen of Hearts; Beth Fisher’s very sweet Jelly Bean providing a real pantomime princess with a beautiful singing voice, and Mike Davies’ effervescent Mad Hatter, who really drove the chorus numbers with his strong singing voice. Tammy Hollands and Beccy Kemp provided a great double act as the Tweedles, but really the whole company should be commended for their varied and individual characters, which all contributed to the magical fantasy world.

From a technical aspect, this company always impresses with somewhat limited resources. The lighting effects achieved with a limited lighting rig are very impressive, with good use of a small variety of colours. If these could focus on the stage even more, it would just add a little more to the intensity to the production as a whole, rather than leaving the audience well lit, but again this is a minor criticism, and shouldn’t detract from the hard work of the lighting team. LIkewise with the sound, on occasion it felt a little quiet, with the pianist holding back when the company could have done with a little more power, but the audience could hear every word, and the singers were never drowned out by Pip Honour’s small band.

As ever, the company made good use of the space, with lots of entrances through the audience, and some colourful sets decorated the stage well, without dominating the stage or cramping the performers. The costumes were fabulous, and complimented the characters through a nice mix of traditional costumes and some more inventive touches – the reveal of the caterpillar transforming into the fairy godmother was a wonderful touch.

Overall, this was a lovely evening in the company of a group who are clearly enjoying every moment of being onstage, and conveying this to the audience without becoming self-indulgent, but sweeping that audience up and taking them on a truly enjoyable, and at times, magical ride – everything that a pantomime should be. If there were any rough edges, these can easily be forgiven by the exuberance of the performers and the sheer enjoyment that this company clearly provides to a very close-knit community.

The final cast was:

Alice Deanna Aspell
Ralph Andrew Johnson
Cook Bean Alan Fisher
Jelly Bean Beth Fisher
Knave of Hearts Maria Sands
Queen of Hearts Sheila Dunn
King of Hearts Stuart Dark
Mad Hatter Mike Davies
Tweedledum Tammy Hollands
Tweedledee Beccy Kemp
Hare Kate Davidson
Essex Cat Jess Lloyd
Caterpillar Margaret Oakley
White Rabbit Hatty Aspell