Past show reviews


Adderbury Institute 28 to 30 January 2016

After last year’s dramatically different ATW Panto we wondered if they could possibly come up with the goods again in 2016 with Sleeping Beauty Untold – we needn’t have worried!
From the creative prologue featuring an (un?)solicited testimonial from no less than Giles Brandreth, a Star Wars story-roll and great cinematic atmosphere, we moved, through a rousing chorus, into the delightful land of Adderbrasia, and the world of Young Maleficent (a lovely serene Ella McEvoy) and her gang of woodland creatures. They set the ball rolling with the first of a string of awful gags which permeated the evening.
If I understood the plot right, we moved on apace to find the evil King Clarkson of Suttonia (a fearsome Linda Leslie) plotting to overthrow Maleficent’s Adderbrasia with his hapless army led by the rum old Captain Morgan (Elaine Bryant still at it!). What an army! – Becky Cheeseman’s throat-hacking Sgt O’Reilly leading the mercenaries who included two Spanish fireman (Jose and Hose B – get it?) and two trees as Special Branch (get it?). The ensuing battle lasts all of ten seconds and Suttonia retrench.
Clarkson departs in a wonderful death-bed scene to be replaced by Maleficent’s ex King Stephan (a mystical Su English) who marries Queen Gwyneth (a very busy Becky Cheeseman again) who has a baby daughter (a-ha! – some semblance to the S Beauty story now!). Enter Maleficent (a bristling treacherous Anna Sorrell) who puts her spell on the baby, then duly has her wings cut off in revenge by Stephan.
Baby then brought up by the three fairies Freeman, Hardy and Willis (Mel Cox, Trisha Bellinger and the irrepressible Wendy Gardner) and emerges just short of her 16th  birthday as the beautiful Aurora (an enchanting Ellie Cox) and she falls for Prince Phillip (perfectly pitched by Chloes Heath/Mobley). The fateful spinning wheel spookily appears. But Maleficent, now guided by her faithful companion Crow (a brilliant mimesis from Alison Heath) is powerless to revoke her curse. Then Phillip gets stuck in – and all’s well that ends well.
Not sure if the good folk of Adderbury really ‘got’ the denouement portrayed as a sketch from the Jerry Springer show? 50% of the cast was drawn from the hugely talented ATW youth group, too numerous to mention individually, and it was so refreshing to see them all playing their full part in the plot rather than just be consigned to the chorus line. All credit to ATW for this.
The action was held together by the indefatigable Gary Leonardi as the narrator Simon (c)Ow(el)l – get it? – periodically sticking his head out of a tree trunk and explaining in Transylvanian drawl and not a little twaddle this moral tale of love versus greed and hatred. Oh, and by the way, it was also Leonardi’s script and also his Lotharian Wood Cutter giving services to the fairies – and also running a hilarious Gordon Ramsey cookery sketch in between – what a man!
There was the usual ATW backstage professionalism, with Karen Dwyer’s team excelling in the sets, the lighting and effects, the costumes (loved the fairies Gill), the choreography – and a special mention for the music, very well chosen and performed with great verve by Messrs Shepstone, White and Halstead.
And finally congratulations to director Jamie Cox – four months of hard work, and he even allowed himself a bizarre cameo as Gandalf moving like Jagger!
So overall a triumph in front of animated sell-out audiences, and to see so much young talent augurs so well for the future. Thank you ATW
Nick Fennell


Cindersmella – January 2015

Wow! New Year, new panto, new ATW – what a difference!
This production by director Jamie Cox and his team was full of innovation, creativity and modern twists. And Gary Leonardi’s brilliant script seemed like a force-fit of a bizarre version of the traditional story into his huge repertoire of one-liners (eg – she was prosecuted for stealing a calendar – she got 12 months! – boom boom)
A novel start of the projection of the old Test Card, a few soap theme tunes, and then a clip of the cast rushing into the Institute was the first of many clever uses of projection and sound effects. And then we were off with a bang as the massive chorus of no less than 32 players got us rocking with their version of ‘Happy’
Then our very droll narrator Justin O’Toole (more desperately bad one-liners) introduced us to a rather different setting – we were in Trampsylvania’s Chateau du Stench, home to the ugly and the filthy, where only the delightful Ellie Cox as Cindersmella together with her lovable woodland friends and the Mice Girls kept us on the side of good amongst a host of unsavoury characters
Poor Cinders was subjugated by her wicked stepmother (brilliantly played with great malevolence by Ellie’s real mother Melanie Cox) and the ugly sisters Germolene and Windolene, who were probably the outstanding creation in the show. Stephanie Maclennan and Karen Reynolds clearly relished the part of the hilarious Essex grotesques with haunting cackles and Jezebel make-up (loved the eyelash extensions, dear!)
Cinders’ only friend was of course Button (only one – couldn’t afford any more) and here was Leonardi at his best, filling the stage seemingly for  the whole show – but how we loved him cajoling the audience with ad libs, asides, innuendo, until he met his match with an outrageous bit of unscripted audience participation. Excellent.
The inevitable padding of the plot brought us a number of other creative and clever ideas. The interlude with the unsanitary inspectors (What, Who and I Don’t Know – spot-on performances  by Danny O’Toole, Su English and Becky Cheesman) was one of several well-executed Ronnie Barkeresque scenes. The odd video thrown in, (even John Craven got in on the act) the Prince swallowing an i-Tunes card so that he spoke in one-liners from songs, and the idea of a dreadful game show as a means of the Prince finding his Princess – all good new stuff. Even the raffle was entertaining – for a change – and the standard happy birthday chorus was this time for an old lady of 111 (ah no – she was ill)
And so to the denouement where the Prince (the splendid Alfie Bullus who grew in confidence- and height – as the evening progressed) and his faithful Dandini (the perfectly pitched Alison Heath) survived the dreadful game show (hosted as part of a double cameo by Trisha Bellinger after excelling as the Hairy Godfather) and the Doc Martins boot fitted our Cinders – and good won over evil again
All the young ATW players played a huge part in this outstanding performance, along with the evergreen Linda Leslie (so flexible in moving effortlessly from ugly old crone to Barbara Woodlouse) and new talent in Chloe Heath and Anna Sorrell as the eventually lovestruck Lucifer the Cat and Bruno the Dog
Good music played its part as ever at ATW – but no sight of songbird Karen Dwyer this time, just her voice in a clever stage/video duet of ‘You’ll be OK’ with Ellie Cox. A good mix of songs throughout, although the excellent new backing group risked drowning out some of the less powerful voices
Karen Dwyer’s backstage team excelled with all their ‘differences’ noted above, but special mention to Gill Osborne and her costume team who worked wonders with their limited budget, even scrounging carrier bags from Sainsbury’s and Aldi for the party outfits for the ugly sisters (nb apparently Aldi charged!)
So the packed audience left highly animated and confident in the knowledge that ATW is in good hands for the future. We are very fortunate here in Adderbury
Nick Fennell