[This article was first published in the Caerphilly Courier on 1st December 2012. A full set of larger pictures (over 100) may be viewed by clicking here]

Bishop Burton was treated this year to a bicentennial pantomime. We were not celebrating the producer's birthday as you might have thought, but the anniversary of the year the Brothers Grimm wrote their original tale of Hansel and Gretel - 1812.

Although, there was plenty of music in our panto, there was no connection to the eponymous 1893 opera by Engelbert Humperdinck (no, not the orange one). Manchester City supporters in the audience might have been a bit tetchy as the cast ran through "Always Look on the Bright Side of LDSC_6990ife", the Manchester United theme song, especially since their team lost to Man U on Sunday. The audience twigged straight away that they were supposed to join in the chorus and really gave it some welly. That song is a wonderful metaphorical antidote to the general gloom of the macro-economic environment in which the panto was set and in which we by coincidence also find ourselves now.

Hansel and Gretel makes a delightful alternative to the mainstream pantomime subjects in a story of good (???) triumphing over evil, based on the fairy-tale by the Grimm Brothers. The author Mike Lund included many 200 year old jokes in the script which added to the period atmosphere. Or were they the ad libs for which he insists on taking no credit? There is a xenophobic streak in some of the jokes which I do deprecate though - people from other villages, especially Withernwick and Sledmere, can't really help not being from Bishop Burton; and the Welsh can't help being Welsh either. Come on Mike, show some humanity, it is Christmas after all.

This year was also a "fusion" performance with strands of Winds in the Willows being worked into the Hansel and Gretel storyline. Or maybe this really just an excuse for Mark Hoddinott as Toad to put his goggles on and ask "anyone want to snog a frog?".

The plot you ask? Well, if you must. Father, played with great comic lugubriousness by Pete Frewer, is poor but has a number of expensive, voracious children including twins (H&G). He hires a home help who gets the twins dumped in the forest and left to their own devices in a desperate effort to cut costs. The lost twins fall asleep in the forest and find their way to the witch's gingerbread house. She feeds them but then starts fattening them up to be made into child pies. The twins manage to escape when they stuff the witch into the oven. They take her ill-gotten gains, are re-united with the family and live happily ever after.

Trevor Thomas, as usual, was our master of ceremonies and he is so polished at it now, that he could almost do it in his sleep. (What do you mean he was?) Give up golf, Trevor, and do this full-time instead. Next year you could be hosting the BAFTAs.

It was a very hairy pantomime this year, with the flaxen styling of Hansel and Gretel, the inverted brush look of Miss Hardnutt, played by the excellent Alison Taylor, and the Grecian 2000 colouring of the witch's brillo pad, now grey as the Greek economy is no longer in the black. Charleyne Wright was very scary as the witch but there was a definite progression in her characterisation as the panto's plot unfurled. She was a bit nice to start with but was not a bit nice at the end when she was stuffed into the oven. By the way, that oven is like the Tardis, bigger on the inside than the outside. How else are we to explain her disappearance into it? Marvellous work by the set designers and constructors: Mike Lund, Rob Douthwaite and Emma Barmby with their sonic screw-drivers.DSC_6981

The woodland animals excellently played by Marianna "Ratty" Hankin, Lynn "Moley" Middleton, Anne "Badger" Frewer and Mark "Toad" Hoddinott were crucial in explaining the plot as well as prancing about to great comic effect. Again their costumes and make-up were excellent.

The admirable Graeme Pittaway had relatively few words this year in his role as a duck or was it a deformed budgie? But he extracted maximum laughter from the audience by just walking and pecking inappropriately. Good panto nonsense.

DSC_6996Much of the action this year appeared to be in the car park. Several scenes began with cast members coming in through the main door and down the aisle through the audience. There were rumours that this was a device to give the scene shifters time to complete their work. But your intrepid reporter can exclusively reveal that the real reason was that there were constant visits to the Star Wagon. In previous years, the caravan has been used for make-up but this year an analysis of emails between the producer and the stars of the panto shows that they demanded exclusive use of this facility. You might regard this revelation as a gross intrusion into their privacy but I plead the public interest defence.

ADSC_6968s ever with a Mike Lund production, there were bits of extraneous business that keep some villagers off the street and help to reduce the pressure on the stars who needed to be relaxing in their Star Wagon for extended periods. We had Heather Hayward, Sue Thomas, Gina Douthwaite, Nicky Hoddinott and Gerry Brooks as a bunch of domestics who tickled us pink but it wasn't their fault, you know. It occurs to me though that the sub-title of this panto should have been "Men in Tights" as Gerry was most fetching in his beige tights, not a crease nor a crumple in view, and Graeme's yellow tights lit up the stage. Both were much tidier than Hansel's right sock which seemed to have an elastic deficit (like the UK economy) - something to be aware of for next year, Ann. Nothing escapes the attention of the culture correspondent of the Caerphilly Courier! I didn't notice if Paul Hayward's stockings were straight as I was too busy helping the children find sweeties that had been strewn around the floor - looked a bit like Finkle Street for a moment.

Our pantomimes are always topical and this year we had an Olympic theme as the very funny family of Richard Tomhlinson, Jack Wray, Paul Hankin and Emma Pitaway went through their enthusiasms for cycling (wiggo!!), swimming and football. They were not afraid to display their physical prowess - shame there wasn't much to see although there was a lot of flesh on view.

Hansel and Gretel were played by Rodger Middleton and Karen Mosley. Full of fun and mischief, they make an on-stage comic duo to rank alongside: Morecombe and Wise, Hardy * 2, and Jedward. And they can sing too, very well! The interplay (much of it unscripted or was it?) between the two is excellent and they interact well with the audience, adults and children alike. It's a real joy to witness their skilful comic acting.DSC_6985

This year greater use was made of sound effects - appropriate and sometimes rude but always funny, and mostly coming in at the right time when it really mattered - well done, Simon. But the costumes were again marvellous. Ann Cherry and her team (??) are a match for anything we see on Strictly Come Dancing.

The sound of sleigh bells announced the arrival of Santa Claus at the interval with presents for the children who were well behaved and didn't cry too loudly at the scary bits. Terry White needs to explain though why he always goes missing during the performance only to miraculously re-appear in the Altisidora.

During the interval, mince pies and ice cream together with wine specially chosen for us by Hankin's Wines. There was plenty of Rioja (pronounced Rodger) being imbibed; soon to be marketed under the Rodger Rioja celebrity brand when Paul's finished re-labelling bottles he bought on tick in Aldi.

The programme (beautifully produced by Norma King) was essential to an understanding of the plot with helpful notes like "Not sure how to describe this bit" against Scene 8a. By the way Mr R Tomlinson has asked me to publish a correction to his name as it appears in the programme. I'm very happy, Ricard, to restore the H to your surname: Tomlinshon or was it Thomlinson - my notes made in the Altisidora afterwards are almost illegible. Not surprising since we were all getting the best out of Di and her staff who kept the cast going for another night.

Hansel and Gretel was another triumph for Mike Lund and his team. Now in their ninth season, the creativity, ingenuity and imagination of Mike's productions get better each year. The audience on Friday from small kiddies to great grandparents shared in the obvious delight of the cast in their scripts, music and bits of business and I'm sure Saturday was just as good. Mike's productions work well at many levels, keeping us all thoroughly entertained but you have to be quick to pick up all the allusions and subtle in-jokes especially after the interval. Long may he reign over us, Mike Lund, King of Pantoland. Keep eating and don't even think of abdicating!



#2 PhotosKaren Mosley 2012-12-11 19:03
How did you get time to actually watch the performance?

E xcellent pics - A corker of Gerry!
#1 Thank you, BrynKaren Mosley 2012-12-11 18:46
Thank you, Bryn

Your reviews are now as eagerly anticipated as the panto! And I am impressed that you do not let the constant ribbing by our Hansel negatively influence you.

Much fun(or is that wine?) was had by all. Saturday night\'s crowd seemed to have as good a time as Friday\'s so we were all happy that we had brought a little warmth to these chilly nights.

It is almost as much fun watching Mike from the sidelines as it is performing. There are some excellent expressions and much wringing of hands. We know we are doing well, when we catch him laughing uproariously

T hanks to all those folks who support us each year - there really isn\'t a show without you

Merry Christmas everybody and here is to next year


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