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Oh No It Isn’t! by Luke Adamson at the Jack Studio Theatre

Forget the ‘backstage in training’ clips from Strictly Come Dancing – stories like the one in Oh No It Isn’t! are, apparently, fairly common in the business called show. Actors who get on with one another, in character, on stage, but off-stage, even in between scenes in which they appear, they push one another’s buttons, get on one another’s nerves, and, to put it mildly, have no intention of going for a coffee or a beer together any time soon.

Oh No It Isn’t! by Luke Adamson
Oh No It Isn’t! by Luke Adamson.

It’s rare, however, for tensions to spill over into on-stage action – a testament, perhaps, to how well stage actors maintain a happy façade eight times a week (sometimes more, of course, if they are in a panto). Mr Worth (Bryan Pilkington) and Mr Chancery (Matthew Parker) are only referred to by those names by the deputy stage manager of the panto they are in (Lola Oteh-Cole, in the form of a voice-over), which is fair enough: in a dressing room shared between them, who else would ‘you’ refer to?

The panto is therefore the show within the show. But – spoiler alert – the audience is not deprived of the panto experience, with calls and responses, and even a sing-song, complete with lyrics on display for all to follow. The sheer reality of the fickleness of the entertainment industry pokes through as the audience gets to know the two actors, and the show’s acerbic humour, as well as the characters’ varied reactions to one another’s cutting remarks, makes for an evening of wide-ranging emotions.

There’s a (sort of) temptation to compare almost any British play where actors have practically declared war on one another to the Michael Frayn play Noises Off, a temptation made all the greater by an actual show stop on press night of this show. I would have liked to have discovered what other people in the company of Cinderella, the panto Worth and Chancery are in (as the ugly sisters – do they even have ‘ugly’ sisters anymore these days, or is the term too offensive?), thought of their performances. It’s all very well watching rivals attempt to tear one another apart, but it would have been good to see, say, a member of ‘stage management’, whom Worth and Chancery refer to often enough, pop into their dressing room and give them a few ‘notes’.

The fairly naturalistic conversation, as well as elements of small talk (the pair are fully capable of civility, and if sorry seems to be the hardest word for some, it isn’t for them) allows Luke Adamson’s script to explore some wider topics in the pantomime world. For instance, are panto ticket sales not what they used to be because there are more economical things families could do with a three-figure sum in December? Or is it, as Worth intimates more than once, some of the scenes and punchlines in pantos such as theirs have been repeated and recycled so much that both the patrons who watch them as well as the actors who perform them are bored of them? Or is it both?

Then there are the costume changes, which the audience sees in action. Such elaborate outfits, put on and removed without the help of dressers, take a little while. But it’s somehow fascinating. As thoughtful as it is amusing, this is an engaging and alternative take on the panto world, setting itself apart from the very many seasonal shows to choose from. Oh yes it is.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

So let’s build the tension – everybody put your hands on your legs and give us a drum roll please! Stamp your feet! Here we go!’

They’re the best of sisters onstage but the worst of friends off it. It’s the final performance of a Cinderella panto in a moth-eaten, regional theatre and backstage tensions threaten to boil over onstage.

Will the egotism, one-up-manship and sexual politics remain confined to the dressing room? Will the ugly sisters keep the professional professional and the personal personal? Will we ever find out what happened during Babes In The Wood?

Oh No It Isn’t!
by Luke Adamson
directed by Kate Bannister
presented by The Jack Studio Theatre
https://brockleyjack.co.uk/

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