The Fairytale Revolution: Wendy’s Awfully Big Adventure has a lot going for it and, if you are a parent who starts to feel especially queasy this time of year with the onslaught of pink plastic toys and the glut of passive ‘rescue-me’ female and ‘I-must-rescue-her’ male characters who are paraded through traditional seasonal entertainment, you should definitely check out this show. Upstairs at the popular Latchmere pub, you can make a nice day of it with a fine festive lunch or supper either side of the show in the inviting, family-friendly space and have some laughs with a feel-good glow (of a more modern but not preachy disposition).
Whilst the script is funny and the production’s intention laudable and urgent, the show has a few rough edges and slack moments that could do with a little work. If you’re with under-8s they probably won’t notice some of the less honed aspects of the script even if they may not be entirely riveted for a full two hours. My 7-year-old twins enjoyed it but did start to fidget in ways they don’t in longer but pacier productions. I would urge the playwrights to consider their audience and perhaps cut about 10 minutes if they can. Nonetheless, this show is plenty relaxed so a little wiggling isn’t a problem. Essentially, Wendy’s Awfully Big Adventure is a pleasing way to introduce kids to panto and its customs without feeling guilty that you’re perpetuating the patriarchy; for that alone, it’s a little Christmas miracle!
Fun as it is, I can’t help but be a smidge frustrated that co-writers Louise Beresford and Anna Spearpoint didn’t murder just a few more of their darlings. I also wish director Carla Kingham had been a bit more of a task-mistress with pacing and had pushed harder for greater precision and intent with lighting designer Ali Hunter and sound designer Daniel Balfour, seeing as The Narrator is the villain for the audience to boo but is only expressed by the arrival of a pink glow (sometimes with a sound effect but seemingly not always) that can be mistaken for any other number of gelled mood or scene shifts.
If the show were aimed at adults, its duration and cadence would be fine but for children who are being asked to play along – and without big orchestrated musical numbers – it feels a little slack and repetitive in certain moments. Dismantling the entire narrative of Western Patriarchy is no mean feat and the team manage with great impact to more or less accomplish this mission – whilst entertaining to boot! But Beresford and Spearpoint also need to give the young audience members a little more credit to get the deconstruction in a few goes: after all Virginia Woolf manages to explain and assassinate the Angel of the House in a few hundred words. The natural broadness of panto could help the script by allowing the obvious, extreme and hammy to play out and pick up speed in the process.
The cast are talented and give fully-committed performances with some very good delivery. Beresford’s Captain Hook of frustrated haikus is hilarious and panto-pitch-perfect; so much so that the show could afford to lose a few of her gags and be none the poorer. The trials on the way to the castle could be cut down with the strong and funny ogre moment as the centrepiece and possibly the only set piece. The character of Baker Swife (a great subversive naming gag that could come up earlier and doesn’t need to be shy about being milked – because this is panto after all!) is compelling and well-rendered by Spearpoint. Anáis Lone who plays Wendy has the best singing voice of the quartet and a bit of script-pruning would enable some of the moving original numbers to resonant further but her role is well-drawn and well-enacted. Helena Moráis’ Peter Pan/Smee is perhaps less decisive and it seems this stems from the script and direction. As this is panto, the creative team needed to take a stand as to how much of a jerk they wanted to make Peter Pan but they seem a little on the fence. I also would have liked the re-interpretations of familiar songs to be done in an even broader and campier manner so the audience had absolute permission to interact from the get-go. There is no need to be subtle in panto and, even in a feminist re-telling, there is no need to fear the obvious!
Despite a few rough or underdeveloped patches, I suspect this show will significantly season itself in time for Boxing Day. But even if it doesn’t, it’s both a successful concept and a jolly fun and thoroughly appropriate way to usher in a new decade.
Review by Mary Beer
We all know how a panto is meant to go (oh no we don’t…shhh!)
The hero wins, the villain loses, someone gets married and they all live happily ever after… …until now…
Louise Beresford and Anna Spearpoint return to Theatre503 to write a brilliant brand new high-spirited, hilarious family friendly show featuring characters you know and characters you think you know…
Writers and Performers: Anna Spearpoint and Louise Beresford
Performers: Anais Lone and Helena Morais
Director: Carla Kingham
Musical Director: Hannah Benson
Designer: Daisy Blower
Lighting Designer: Ali Hunter
Stage Manager: Peggy Thomas
Producer: Gabrielle Leadbeater
Assistant Producer: Beth Cooper
Wendy’s Awfully Big Adventure
Written by Louise Beresford & Anna Spearpoint
Directed by Carla Kingham