by Gavyn Lugsden
Rumpelstiltskin is not a fairytale that particularly lends itself to panto in my opinion; primarily because it doesn’t really have any heroes. The Dame, who asserts that her daughter can spin straw into gold in order to marry her off to the widowed King, is a greedy fraud. Meaner still is the King himself, who demands three sack-loads of the glittery stuff from the girl upon pain of death before agreeing to the match. Even by today’s standards, that’s one hell of a pre-nup! Meanwhile, the title character, rather than being the plucky underdog we find in more popular pantomimes (think Cinderella, Dick Whittington, Snow White, Aladdin, Sleeping Beauty and so on) is in fact the principal villain. All of which can leave an audience not knowing whom to boo first.
The eponymous anti-hero is, if anything, the most inexplicable piece in the jigsaw. Blessed with magical powers that should amount to almost limitless wealth and power, this malevolent little goblin chooses to tramp about the countryside meddling in the affairs of a handful of impoverished peasants. In Marie’s case saving her neck for no other reason than to force her to relinquish to him her most treasured possessions, which he doesn’t really want anyway. Why not just keep the gold he has spun? Or depose the King? Or retire somewhere warm?
Fortunately a good script - kindly supplied by local writer Gavyn Lugsden - and a large cast of lewdly-named new characters helped fashion this into an amusing and reasonably coherent tale. Act 1 mainly concerns the village womenfolk vying for the hand of the King in the form of a talent competition. Thus we enjoy some witty digs at X-Factor style shows whilst bulking out the basic plot. The result of the competition remains in the balance until Dame Frilly Knickers trumps all comers with her straw-into-gold claims. It’s quite a gift, to be sure, although presumably in the adult-only version Connie Cockplucker and Gladys Ringpicker put up some pretty stern opposition!
Act 2 then reverts to the original tale. Marie, whom we find locked in the dungeon, is seemingly doomed until Rumpelstiltskin materialises to take over at the spinning wheel and save her. In return for her future firstborn child, that is. Cue royal marriage, a royal birth, and eventual reappearance of Rumpelstiltskin to claim his prize. A plea for mercy is duly lodged and, stupidly, the little fella agrees to forgo his prize if they can guess his name, which of course they can because the audience shouts it out for them. Rumpelstiltskin then stomps away with the boos ringing in his pointy little ears. Albeit those boos being tempered by the acknowledgment that he did actually save Marie’s life and was really rather hard done by when you think about it.
In addition to the tight script, director Jo McBrearty’s ability to coordinate a cast of what seemed like hundreds (boosted by some extra helpers from Donna’s Dance School) helped to make this show a success, despite the problems with the source material. With so many characters entering and exiting from all angles, not to mention dancing, prancing and breaking into song at the drop of a hat, it was hard not to be swept along with it all.
Audience participation is also key and I think this was the noisiest pantomime I have ever seen at Totternhoe. Congratulations to the senior members of the cast on that front, but in particular to Lindzi Hayward as the Dame, Simon Perkins as Rumpelstiltskin, and Karen Williams as Gladys. Elsewhere Jennifer Robinson gave another good performance as evil sidekick Brenda Bogwort and young Jade Cook made a promising debut as a principal girl, Marie. We were also treated to another glamorous cameo by Karen Wilson singing Goldfinger, but can’t we persuade her into taking on some bigger roles? Especially in panto where her vocal abilities could be put to good use.
One final thought: has the time come for the Totternhoe Players to bite the bullet and start using some sort of amplification for their pantos? Yes, my hearing probably is getting worse but I’m afraid several other deaf old buggers who were sat near the back agreed that rather a lot of the dialogue was just too quiet to pick up. Shame, because the dialogue that I *was* able to hear was pretty good.