What is the essence of Panto with its cross-dressing, double entendres, broad campy characters and more-is-more costuming, makeup and theatrics? If you want to find out, get down to the Garden Theatre at Vauxhall’s Eagle Pub for what is quite possibly one of the funniest and purest Pantos you’ll ever experience – for grown-ups!
I’ve seen the big-budget productions at the Palladium with Julian Clary, Nigel Havers and Dawn French and Stephen Fry’s and Sandi Tosvig’s show at the Old Vic as well as sampled Panto-for-the-People under the Vault’s arches set in a dowdy working men’s club; I can confidently say that playwright Gareth Joyner and director Robert McWhir manage to deliver as much entertainment punch as the big showy outings (at a fraction of the ticket price) but far more joy, madness and intimacy then the ‘immersive’ efforts of some of the smaller and lower-key venues.
Perhaps it’s because Peter Bull’s Garden Theatre with LAMBCO Productions have been honing the art of playing in the pandemic since the summer – when they brought their first outdoor musical, Fanny and Stella and followed it up with one indefatigable adaption and innovation after another, no matter what the rules of the week were. Whatever the reason, the Garden Theatre is starting to feel like hallowed ground to the patron saint of The Show Must Go On and a model of resilience that should be written into the history of 2020 when it is told.
Of course, Panto is silly, formulaic and over-the-top. No one buys a ticket in the hope of being startled, challenged or introduced to a new dramatic form; but one does look forward to what fresh twists will be added to familiar conventions. Frostbite: Who Pinched My Muff strikes just the right note of layered piss-taking that is neither too knowing for only the in-crowd nor too pedestrian. In fact, despite the cheeky main title and the subtitle of ‘An Adult Panto’, this production is only mildly risqué. You wouldn’t dare bring children to it, but you’re as likely to squirm sitting next to your mother at the Julian Clary one (which was full of kids) as you would at Frostbite.
Thanks to the relatively small space, you get to enjoy full-scale, West End calibre dancing, singing and acting from the cast up-close (but socially-distanced) in a way that feels like you’re the monarch being entertained by your players in your court. James Lowrie as snowboy Lumiukko shows off some serious dance training whilst bantering with the audience with the ease of a veteran club performer. Nathan Taylor as Demon Frostbite gives a charismatic performance with physicality and timing that demands your attention and sparks a little pride in the British theatrical tradition. Shelly Rivers as Garbo also exudes strong presence; her movement is riveting to watch whether she’s dancing or not. Recent Arts Ed graduate Bessy Ewa as Greta is a face to watch as an impressive triple-threat. Of course, the grand Dame Herda Gerda (Dereck Walter) is a joy to behold as he holds the piece together with gravity and wit whilst Fairy Snowflake (Kingsley Morton) and Bergermeister Kai (Tom Keeling) complement the ensemble’s strong and playful chemistry.
Let’s face it: in Dec 2020 life is pretty grim and surreal at the moment – give yourself a break and enjoy something entertainingly bonkers for a change!
Review by Mary Beer
FROSTBITE, Who Pinched My Muff?’ is the first panto to be staged at the award-winning Garden Theatre at The Eagle Pub in Vauxhall. Following the ending of the second national lockdown, it will run from 3 December – 10 January.
The generically Germanic alpine village of Vaüxhallen is a happy place where all are honest and true. Quite frankly it’s nauseating, and no one thinks this more than the villainous human-hating Demon Frostbite, whose mission it is to freeze the hearts of all mankind! With his sights sets on our warm-hearted friend Dame Herda Gerda, will Fairy Snowflake thwart his evil plans with a flurry of her magic? What about Lumiukko, our loveable snowman friend? Perhaps our hero Garbo will save the day and chop down the Beanstalk? Is that even the right show? Who knows! With thigh-slapping routines and songs you know and love, ‘FROSTBITE, Who Pinched My Muff?’ is all the magic of pantomime from your childhood, but in a beer garden after a few mulled wines.
If you’ve any notion that this will be like any Disney movie then you’d better ‘let it go…’
Bessy Ewa (Greta) was Waverley in ‘Next Thing You Know’ (Garden Theatre).
Tom Keeling (Bergermeister Kai) was Vinnie Di Ruzzio in ‘Lucky Stiff’ (Union Theatre).
James Lowrie (Lumiukko) is a recent graduate from Guildford School of Acting, making his professional debut.
Kingsley Morton (Fairy Snowflake) is a recent graduate from ArtsEd, making her professional debut.
Shelley Rivers (Garbo) was Maria in ‘The Sound Of Music’; Eliza in ‘My Fair Lady’; Rose in ‘Aspects of Love’.
Nathan Taylor (Demon Frostbite) was Buzz Adams in ‘South Pacific’ at Kilworth House Theatre
Dereck Walker (Dame Herda Gerda) is a well-known panto dame who has also played one of Cinderella’s Ugly Sisters at many venues across the country.
Writer Gareth Joyner
Director Robert McWhir
Choreographer William Spencer
Musical Director Aaron Clingham
Designer David Shields
Lighting Designer Richard Lambert
Casting director Anne Vosser
Producer Peter Bull for LAMBCO Productions
Peter Bull for LAMBCO Productions
‘FROSTBITE, Who Pinched My Muff?
The Garden Theatre
at The Eagle
349 Kennington Lane
London SE11 5QY
(nearest tube/train: Vauxhall)
3 December 2020 – 10 January 2021