8 December 2015

Pride and Prejudice: The Panto at The Cockpit was a feast of frivolity

It is not often that I can unreservedly recommend a theatre production but I can with Pride and Prejudice: The Panto at The Cockpit. Of course you have to like panto, but who doesn't?

My diary leading up to Christmas was still a mess with several dates that ought to have had theatres in them still blank and one of those days was this Tuesday. A quick trawl around some of my favourite theatres (I keep a list of links) gave me Pride and Prejudice: The Panto and the simple idea of it was enough to get me to book it. At a miserly £14 it was a ridiculous bargain and an easy decision to make.

The Cockpit is not that hard to get to but it is a little out of the way when compared to most of the other theatres that I go to and, in particular, it lacks a decent local pub that does food. I knew that there was a Pakistani restaurant across the road (Original Lahore) but had never had time to go there before. This time I cheated and took a tube some of the way to give me time to eat. It was my first curry since India and I loved it. I'll be back there.

I slipped across the road to the theatre not long before the 7:30pm start but with enough time to get a bottle of Budvar, as I always do there.

It happened to be the first night (I am far more used to booking the very last one!) but I was not worried about any roughness as it was panto and things going wrong is all part of the fun. In the end the most serious thing that I noticed go wrong was when one of Elizabeth's shoes flew off and this situation was easily recovered by Mr Darcy disdainfully returning it.

For the first time that I can recall, I chose a seat in the second row as I remembered that the front-row seats are very low. The stage was already occupied as we settled down.

Pride and Prejudice: The Panto was many things. It was the story from the book and we had Jane Austen there to tell us about it. We also had a mischievous Charles Dickens trying to subvert things by making the plot more like one of his (Hard Times or Bleak House). We had a few songs, including classics like "Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me". We had a pantomime dame, Mrs Bennet. There were two puppets for the younger daughters and a broom for one of the suitors.

Above all it was a panto with jokes, topical references, the audience shouting "Calm down, Mrs Bennet!" and booing Dickens, a Blind Date, a wet shirt, an unfair comment about my tie, and just enough bawdiness to make it edgy but not dirty.

It was fabulously entertaining throughout. A lot of this was done to the sheer number of fun things packed into the play and the rest of it was down to the excellent cast and creatives, I counted over a dozen people at the curtain call.

With so many stars it is a little unfair to highlight just a few of them, but I will anyway. James Walker-Black as Mrs. Bennet (and other roles, including Cilla Black) was always at the centre of action and the main responder to the audience which required a lot different skills including a few accents and some ad-libbing. Dannie Pye was wonderfully aloof as Mr Darcy and went above and beyond the call of duty in the wet shirt. Freya Evans was cute as Jane Austen and charming as Charles Bingley.

I will make the point again though, this was a panto and a panto relies on a large cast to all play their parts well and here they most definitely did.

The audience reaction was the best measure of the success of the production and everybody else there was laughing, cheering, clapping, shouting and applauding as much as I was.

Pride and Prejudice: The Panto was enormous fun and was exactly what an adult panto should be. Christmas was invented for shows like this.

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