Monday, December 20, 2010

Theatre: Puss in Boots

Presented by the MS Society
Directed by John Senczuk
Musical director Tim Cunniffe
Featuring Ian Toyne, Michael Loney, Charlotte Devenport, Jenny McNae, Michael Bingaman, Thomas Papathanassiou and Mahalia Bowles, Maree Cole, Carley Illingworth-Wilcox and Sam Tye, with Tim Cunniffe and Mia Brine on keyboards
Playhouse Theatre
16 – 23 December 2010

Oh yes I did!
The venerable Playhouse Theatre is going out not with a bang but a whisker.
In a nice touch, the partnership between the Multiple Sclerosis Society of WA and director John Senczuk has revived the Christmas pantomime for the theatre’s swansong.
This Playhouse tradition was driven by Perth theatre legend Edgar Metcalfe during his tenure at the helm of the long-gone National Theatre Company.
While Puss in Boots is hardly a grand finale, it has something of the family feel that gave the Playhouse — surely the most unprepossessing and prosaic major city theatre ever foisted on the public — whatever charm it had.
And “family” is what Senczuk’s adaptation of this pantomime standard tale is all about.
Sure there’s the usual smattering of double-entendres and scatological merrymaking, but this is squarely a show for kids with a bit of over-their-heads smuttery thrown in for their mums and dads.
It’s not quite the whole hog as pantomimes go: the only gender-bending on show is the inevitable dame (in this version, Queenie Cupcakes, a widow of Dalkeith), and the intricate call-and-audience response of the classic pantomime experience is simplified down to the classic “She’s behind you!” and a couple of chants and waves.
But let’s not quibble; it was all perfectly targeted for the kids in the audience, and they responded sensationally.
I don’t know what they’re teaching kids in school these days, but these ones were sharp, responsive and connected to the entertainment in a way that the diffident, surly urchins of my generation would never have been. Big cartoon hats off to them.
Hats off, too, to the three old pros in the cast, Michael Loney, Jenny McNae and Ian Toyne, who nudged, winked, blustered and farted their way through routines as old as the hills and funny as a barrel of monkeys.
Devenport,  Loney and Toyne ham it up
The glorious Jenny McNae deserves a statue on the site of the theatre she’s called home for most of its 54 years, and anyone who’s called the hilarious Michael Loney a bit of an old tart over the years will have plenty to smile about when they see him playing one. And let's hear it for Ian Toyne, who does a lot of the bits and pieces, from the MC to the most gaseous gazillionaire in living memory, and does them all well.
The juvenile leads, Charlotte Devenport (who is every bit her talented mother's daughter), Michael Bingaman and Thomas Papathanassiou, as the title character, were left a little stranded playing their own gender and by a lack of farcical energy and broad humour in the true-love story that passes for a plot in panto.
But they are attractive, talented young performers whom we’ll see again.
Tim Cunniffe is a master of stage music on the cheap – in this case just him and Mia Brine on keyboards – and, as usual, he delivers a swag of fun songs, nicely crafted.
It all comes to an end on Thursday when, I understand, there’s likely to be a host of cameos from Perth theatre luminaries to sing the old girl home (“She’s behind you!”).
If you can find a ticket and a hanky, you should be there.

An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian on 20.12.10 read here .

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