After weeks of fevered anticipation, we have again the highlight of the Bishop Burton events calendar - the Christmas pantomime produced yet again by the maestro, our very own Mike Lund. This year, it's "Puss in Boots" - very sensible footwear considering the weather. The village hall was packed with villagers and their guests, many of whom had paid to be there and had managed not to fall over in the car park! And what a marvellous show we all had. Click here for Panto Photos

Trevor Thomas, fresh from leading the Barmy Army to cricketing success in Adelaide, announced that this year the pantomime would be going up-market in an effort to appeal to a better class of audience. Oh, golly gosh, how exciting and about time, I say. What he didn't tell us though was that we would experience a truly "musical pantomime" with songs sung quite beautifully by cast members (though with scant regard for the original libretto).

"Puss in Boots", the pantomime, has its origins in a French literary fairy tale about a well-shod cat that uses trickery and deceit to gain power, wealth, and the hand of a princess in marriage for his penniless and low-born master. The tale was written in 1695 by a retired French civil servant, M. Charles Perrault, a contemporary of Mike's at university. Wikipedia reports that the tale's immorality has provoked some concern about its influence on young minds (spot on for a Bishop Burton pantomime, some would say). But apparently Perrault composed it to reinforce standards of civilized conduct in the upper-class French society of the 17th century rather than to provide amusement and instruction for the young. He obviously hadn't seen the Bishop Burton pantomime version!

The pantomime began with an overture performed by the world-famous (at least they will be now) Capello Trio comprising Nickie Hoddinot, Anne Frewer and Gina Douthwaite, with us sadly for two nights only. Skilfully using their vuvuzelas they played a theme that the audience was invited to guess during the interval. The guesses varied widely from Jingle Bells, to Good King Wenceslas and Bohemian Rhapsody. For some reason, no one quite heard the theme of Mahler's 8th in E-flat major, nicknamed the Symphony of a Thousand - shame we only had three vuvuzelas. Your critic can though exclusively reveal that the prize - a weekend's self-catering in Withernsea - will be rolled over to next year's competition provided it hasn't fallen into the sea first.

It's always difficult to summarise the plot in a Mike Lund confection. One wonders at times if some of the cast listen to a word he says. But roughly, this is how it went on Friday, at least; Saturday's version might be a different story but the tickets had all gone from the village shop where they had been ably marketed by Anne and Pete. The pantomime opens in a solicitor's office, with the Miller family awaiting the reading of their father's last will and testament. Lynn Middleton as Fenella Fastpiece decorously organised proceedings as the solicitor's clerk, helping Mark Hoddinott, returning to the village by popular acclaim from an international tour to play a cameo role as the doddery, but grasping lawyer, Stig Snodgrass.

The sons of Windy Miller were all been named after the places of their conception - Ulrome, Skip(sea), and Brid(lington). Paul Hayward played the eldest, Ulrome, with great panache, ably supported by Charleyne Wright and her various wigs as his fetching wife Marilyn. Ann Cherry's team produced brilliant costumes for the cast but with Skip she seems to have had an aberration. Richard Tomlinson played his part stoically dressed in a suit which would have fitted Friar Tuck while Sue Brooks hammed it up as his wife using facial expressions and a voice achieved (it sounded to me) by wearing her dentures upside down.

The outcome of the will was that Ulrome got the mill, Skip got the Range Rover (very handy too with the icy roads), and Brid got the dratted cat. Rodger Middleton and Graeme Pittaway as Brid and our eponymous [see, the review is going upmarket as well, using words with more than three syllables] feline respectively were a wonderful double act ranking alongside those greats of yesteryear: Bootsie and Snudge, Tom and Jerry, Saint and Greavesie. Graeme acted the part of Puss with great skill and gusto, and his costume and make-up were of West End standard. Was I though the only one to detect echoes of Austin Powers in his gestures? Rodger and Graeme built an excellent rapport with the audience, even getting them to sing-along whole-heartedly to a version of the 12 days of Christmas that must have woken the students of the College who'd not gone to London to "see the Queen".

Reflecting the upmarket shift in the storyline this year, our hero Brid "Hold the front page" Miller had been to a University although for how long, we never quite discovered. He was now a trainee reporter on the Bishop Burton Bugle. This gave him quite an advantage in his dealings with the audience as he was able to pick out from the audience the c-list celebs and minor royalty i.e. anyone from Sledmere. His brilliant rendition also of "Don't laugh at me ‘cos I'm called Brid" moved many to tears; certainly no one laughed. Rodger "Call me Rod" Middleton, sounded even better than the Rod Stewart whose wig he seemed to have borrowed for the night. And yes, a quick straw poll revealed that the ladies did think he was sexy.

Stonybroke Palace was the venue for the next leap forward in the plot. The leads were King Stonybroke, played thoughtfully by Mike Lund, and Sue Thomas as his wife Queen Etheldread, heroically fighting her way through injuries incurred while hubbie Trevor was away in Australia on important and urgent business (see above). The Stonybroke's were desperate to find a rich husband for their buxom daughter, Princess Bertha. That comic genius, Karen Mosley, was again in control of her audience and improvised hilariously when the "sounds off" were not what they were meant to be. The miserable countenance of Gerry Brooks' lugubrious Lord Chamberlain suggested a level of debt in Stonybroke matched only by that of Ireland. The irony of the court's spirited and in-tune rendition of "If I ruled the world" was not lost on the audience, most of whom were amazingly still awake after only 40 minutes. The song was brought to end with the arrival of Puss bearing a gift of two rabbits and a partridge from the Marquess of Weel. "Who he?" We all wondered. Graeme Pittaway's feline nudges and winks were enough to give us a clue. Say no more...

The interval was announced by Father Christmas' arrival down the chimney and the rush for the bar with your critic leading the way. Children received presents from a whiter than terry-white Santa (how did he get down the chimney in such pristine condition?) and his helper Marianna Hankin (temporarily metamorphosed into Ann Cherry). The audience were also treated to warm ice cream and cold mince pies - did I get that right?

The show resumes. Puss and Brid are to be found beside a stream or river. Stripping down to his flesh-coloured summer work overalls decorated with bits of elephant grass in key places, Brid goes for a swim and, lo and behold, his clothes are "stolen". Coming across this sad scene on their way to see the Marquess of Weel, the Stonybroke Court comes to the rescue and arranges for Brid (a.k.a. the Marquess) to be dressed in clothes more suited to the dignity of his newly assumed role. Rob Douthwaite appears with his rod for some reason; he must have been angling for this part for a long time. A terrapin is seen floating down the river. Why, I know not. Your critic was losing the plot again at more or less the same point as last year. Post Interval Stress Disorder is a well-known condition among us drama critics.

At last, the lights flicker, a frisson of fear and Pete Frewer's Lord Orrible moved slowly through the audience from back to front. We'd been waiting to be frightened and now the moment had arrived. More ‘orrible than ever, with a cantilevered nose that cast a shadow beyond the stage, Pete made sure the senior citizens would not sleep comfortably in their beds that night (the children were all right). Lord Orrible's magnificent singing of "I'm a very rich man" left us all with a severe dose of the willies. Once in his mansion, Lord Orrible is visited by Puss who tricks him into metamorphosing into a mouse that, yes, you've guessed it, the cat eats right in front of us all. By some strange rule of inheritance, this means that Brid now inherits Lord Orrible's mansion and his possessions, becoming richer than anyone in all Bishop Burton. Matilda, the lord's French maid in waiting, takes advantage of the TUPE regulations and stays on to work for Brid. How long we had to wait for Emma Pittaway's eye candy and comic timing. But the wait was worth it.

Anyway, as the plot would have it, the Stonybrokes now turn up at the mansion with Brid now firmly ensconced as the Marquess of Weel. Princess Bertha can scarcely contain herself at the prospect of this rich and eligible bachelor. But in a radical, demotic sting in the tail of our tale, unlike in the original story, our hero, Brid chooses to marry the commoner, Matilda, rejecting the sweet advances of Princess Bertha who is forced to settle in desperation for Gerry Brooks' Lord Chamberlain. Gosh, again, just as well Matilda's name wasn't Kate as the symbolism would have been too much too obvious.

The pantomime ended to rapturous and well-earned applause from the audience. Puss in Boots is yet another triumph for Mike Lund and his Bishop Burton cast. Keep ‘em coming Mike, you're getting better and better with age. And where would he be without his battalion of magnificent helpers: Hilary Swann, Simon Cherry, Rob Douthwaite and Ann Cherry? And Norma King produced a beautiful programme that will be a valuable historical document in years to come.

One final question, we had the cat but where on earth was Dick Whittington? Was he pulled at the final rehearsal or did he forget his entry cues? Maybe he'd lost his free pensioner's bus pass from London . Did he turn up on Saturday? Do let me know or add your own observations on this wonderful musical pantomime.


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#2 Puss in BootsAnn Cherry 2010-12-13 17:40
Impressive journalistic review, glad you enjoyed! We all had great fun, totally worth all the hard work to make so many people laugh. HUGE THANKS to the Panto team and to all members of BB Events Group who work so hard to make our events such a success. Ann Cherry
#1 Comic GeniusKaren Mosley 2010-12-12 20:21
Can I just say what a perceptive and accurate critic you are, Bryn (He must be Welsh) Jones? I can. And I am.
Thank you for a lively read, the review is now as eagerly anticipated as the panto. It was being quoted in the cast clearup in the Hall this morning.
Glad you enjoyed it - mind I havent looked at the pictures yet, I may not be so pleased with those!

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