Friday 16 December 2011
From Tarby to Edna in Wimbledon
My jaw aches. That's partly because the root-canal treatment continues weekly, with various attendant degrees of horror, but mostly because I went from a grim hour or so in the dentist's chair yesterday to laughing 'til I cried at the most relentlessly funny show I've seen since the last production of Noises Off. Yes, good people, a panto. The Arts Desk needed Dick Whittington at the New Theatre Wimbledon covered, and I went with the idea in mind that the global gigastar of Moonee Ponds, Dame Edna Everage, would be up to her usual tricks if all else failed.
She was, but how I underestimated the rest, and what a shame the ten-year-old I thought would love it turned his nose up at the idea of a drag star (my fellow child-at-heart Edwina came instead, and marked it way above the Hackney Empire panto she'd seen the previous evening). The comedy hardly ever let up; different kinds and levels of humour, all first-rate, came from Renaissance writer-director-dame Eric Potts as Sarah the Cook (alas, the only picture they sent me of him, along with the above, has the dame marginal to the Dame)
as well as Kev Orkian charming the pants off us as a stand-up Idle Jack - Charles Spencer, how could you not be amused? - and break-dancing small personage Ben Goffe. The three of them pulled off an endless - and endlessly funny - routine in the second act of which the Marx Brothers would have been proud. But here I repeat myself; read the review.
There I also self-indulgently divulged when I last saw panto in Wimbledon: as a cub scout, lured backstage by peer pressure to get Jimmy ('Tarby')Tarbuck's autograph after Jack and the Beanstalk*. Strange to tell, I don't remember nearly as much about it as I do about an earlier Cinderella at the London Palladium with Cliff Richard and the Shadows, no doubt prompted by the soundtrack which I still possess.
The songs are good! And so are the Shadows' instrumental numbers. And look at young Cliff back in 1967.
I'm told I had one of my usual agonising childhood ear infections, and remember being propped in front of the black and white telly shortly afterwards. The only other panto of which I have any memory is one in which a muscle man in leopardskin underpants did his routine to the usual tune, though don't ask me where that was.
As for Wimbledon Theatre, now the New Wimbledon Theatre under the very canny management of the Ambassador Theatre Group, it hasn't changed within and strikes me now as rather beautiful and well-preserved of its ilk. Certainly the best thing I saw there in my youth, apart from very good London Transport Players shows which my grandfather, who worked for LT, always insisted we saw, was a London Festival Ballet Nutcracker. This would have been 1970 - must dig out the season programme, which I think lurks in a box in my mother's loft. Galina Samtsova and Alan Dubreuil were the Sugar-Plum Fairy and Prince Orshad-Coqueluche (that's Coughdrop to you, so much for the poetry of the Pas de Deux), but of course I was much more struck by the sets and the score. And this was probably the fullest Tchaikovsky version ever; when elsewhere has anyone seen Mother G(C)igogne, that fabulous number which ought to end the divertissement (and did in 1892; how surprised I am to find Vsevolozhsky's original design reproducable)?
And I bet few of you have seen the English sailor's dance in the divertissement. Which as it resurfaced many years later on CD, turns out to be John Lanchbery's arrangement of Tchaikovsky's sketches for a Gigue or Jig. That was class, and I'm sure I sensed it: no Nutcracker since, other than Matthew Bourne's reinvention, has come anywhere close for me.
*In the light of more recent events, 'lured' may sound a bit ambivalent. Anyway, he was very nice to me.