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You have to look very hard these days for a traditional production of a Shakespeare play – every kind of re-interpretation, re-imagining and dismantling of the Bard’s work seems to be the norm. Pantomime, on the other hand, is largely undertaken as a traditional presentation; there are ‘rules’ and in any pantomime season there are Cinderellas, Jacks and Aladdins coming at you from every direction. Thus, the lure of a production of ‘Macbeth – The Pantomime’ is that it rips up most of the rulebook and goes out on a limb with something completely different.

An appropriate choice to be performed on Burn’s Night, The Castle Players production, written and directed by Linsey O’Neill, takes Shakespeare’s original and combines it with a talent show – ‘Lytchett’s Got The Strictly Voice Pop Star on Love Island Factor’. What follows is an inventive, funny and rather bonkers show.

In a nutshell, wicked Laydee Macbeth and her henpecked husband are keen to topple Duncan Blue who is King of Karaoke in the TV talent show and following the predictions of three witches – cue for a funny ‘witch/which’ routine – they clear the way for success by foul means. The Talent show is judged by three incompetents – Simone Cow – the ruthless one, Bruno Spagettelli – the eccentric one with a permatan and Wiil-I-am Shakespeare who only speaks in lines from his plays; it’s a running gag that is very clever and very funny.

Fighting the foe is Mamma Macduff and her son Marty – a would-be winner of the show, who fancies the technician Rocky Roadie, oh and there’s a dog called Spot – cue more references to the original play. Maybe close investigation might betray some plot holes – but who cares?

Deanna Langford looks great as the evil Laydee, plotting her way through life and dominating her feeble husband Dave Macbeth played by Steve O’Neil. In the dual role of Duncan Blue and his ‘twin’, Banquo, Phil McMullen is a tour de force – not least in his conversation with himself which is exhaustingly funny. Mollie Burdon and Lucie Harding combine well and both sing beautifully as the loving couple of Marty and Rockie and Val Holland, Pete Bennett and Richard Owen all have fun as the judges, complete with their X Factor-style buzzers. Steve Moore oversees proceedings as the likeable and quirky Dame, delivering some very funny gags with aplomb.

The sets are very simple – mainly slash curtains – but they suffice and the action moves from scene to scene easily, though some do appear to end rather abruptly.

There are some good, appropriate song choices, ‘Killer Queen’ and ‘Murder on the Dance Floor’, for example; generally, the singing is a little tentative and maybe some more microphone support could be used. Choreography too is a little tame – a bit more pizazz is needed

This is a very enjoyable show with many excellent gags – many at the expense of Shakespeare, but they work. The cast is obviously having a great time and the auditorium was packed – this is a real community event and it is never less than a pleasure to see local theatre groups being well supported.

Linsey O’Neill has created a fun and very original pantomime and directed it with the emphasis on giving great entertainment to the audience. Yes, it is a little rough around the edges, but, no one minds. The Castle Players Theatre Group have great heart and are to be applauded for being brave, original and game for a laugh.

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LINSEY O’Neill’s hysterical Castle Players pantomime is based on the story of Macbeth, with a few other Shakespearean plays thrown in for good measure, and liberally sprinkled with a satirical look at game shows and “reality” television and the traditions of the panto genre.

What could possibly go wrong ­– other than the electrocution of a leading actor, groan-inducing jokes and lots of Queenly audience participation.

It does help if you know the Scottish play, and if you are acquainted with one of the shows that were the “inspiration” for Lytchett’s Got the Strictly Voice Pop Star on Love Island Factor.

It’s a cut-throat world on the TV talent shows, and one that Dave Macbeth really wants to win.  Not so much as his lovely wife Laydee wants it, though. So she enlists the help of three witches who spend their time round a fire pit …..

To avoid further spoilers – because it would be much better for your to see this inventive and welcomely different panto, on to the company.

Perhaps it was a bit unfair to visit the first night and I am sure the glitches will be sorted as the 24-strong cast gain confidence.

Banquo is the twin brother of karaoke king Duncan Blue (fortunate, as both are played by the very funny Phil Mc Mullen, with Steve O’Neill as his arch rival Dave Mac­beth and Deanna Lang­ford as the scheming Laydee M.

On the podium are Simone Cow (Val Holland), Bruno Spagettelli (Pete Bennett and a wig) and Will-i-am Shakespeare (Richard Owen) who speaks in Shakespearean throughout!

The love interest is diffident young Marty Macduff (Mollie Burdon) and Rocky Roadie (Lucie Harding) and Marty’s mum is the larger than life Mamma Macduff, in the Grayson Perry-inspired form of Steve Moore.

Then there are performers in the show, an introducing duo …  all the familiar elements of the contest shows including the scream-inducing delayed climaxes as results are announced.

Writer and director Linsey has made ingeniously free with the conventions of both pantomime and Bardic productions, bending them to suit the story and delighting both audience and cast.

Perhaps a bit more attention needs to be on the singing. In some cases microphones might be a better use of funds than lasers.

But overall this is a colourful, energetic and hilarious show, and it really is new. Congratulations Castle Players.

There are performances on 25th and 31st January and on 1st February, and if you want a good laugh, go along.


REVIEW - Dorset Theatre Reviews


Where shall I begin? If you are a fan of traditional Shakespeare and Pantomime then perhaps this production written and directed by Linsey O’Neill is not for you. However if you are ‘Game for a Laugh’ then you will love this nod to ‘Macbeth’ and TV shows.

This cast of 20+ were all excellent and clearly enjoyed their various roles. They worked together as a well oiled team and their enthusiasm came over the footlights giving the audience a very different and hilarious evening.

The sound and lighting were superb and I particularly liked the sound of the footsteps walking around the hall – very impressive.

The costumes were just right and the simple set very effective.

Phil McMullen deserved the applause he received when he talked to himself as Duncan and Banquo.

Steve Moore as the compulsory dame, Mamma Macduff gave us some of the best laughs of the evening, with a clear delivery.

There was plenty of audience participation which got everyone into the mood. All in all an original, amusing and different evening.

Further performances are this afternoon at 2.30pm and this evening at 7.30pm, 1st February.

Lyn Richell

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