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Review: Dame Trott’s Panto Palaver at Cambridge Arts Theatre



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It’s not easy feeling Christmassy this year but my daughter and I were given a big helping hand by the talented cast of Dame Trott’s Panto Palaver, writes Emilie Silverwood-Cope.

Showing at Cambridge Arts Theatre, it is one of the few venues able to welcome and entertain live audiences. It’s clear they’ve worked hard to get their “See it Safely” accreditation and that’s exactly how we felt, safe.

This is a panto-themed adventure, rather than a traditional pantomime. It’s a mash-up featuring Dick Whittington, Cinderella, Wishy Washy, Fairy Godmother and Dame Trott. As writer Al Lockhart-Morley says, it’s madcap and unconventional.

Dame Trott's Panto Palaver. Picture: Martin Bond (43650673)
Dame Trott's Panto Palaver. Picture: Martin Bond (43650673)

This year (hopefully for one year only) there is a new baddie in town, Count Covidula. Played perfectly by Stephen Beckett, Covidula kicks off the show by telling us how he has ruined 2020. He is now out to destroy Panto Land and wants to change all the happy endings so the baddies can finally triumph. It’s up to the heroes to stop him as we do a whistle stop tour of various pantos. Will Cinderella get her Prince? Will Dick Whittington become Mayor of London or will he be defeated in a rigged election? “You’ll be in tiers/tears by the end” Covidula tells us. He wasn’t wrong.

Starring Matt Crosby as Dame Trott - who returns to Cambridge for the fifteenth time - this Panto Palaver is packed full of jokes, songs and dancing. It’s 75 minutes of silliness and pure escapism. I had forgotten what it felt like to laugh in a group. Just seeing the people around me happy made me feel better. 2020 is put through the panto-joke machine and we were all laughing at what’s been a grim year. That’s no mean feat.

Cambridge Arts Theatre Dame Trott's Panto Palaver stars Matt Crosby and Stephen Beckett take to the streets of Cambridge . Picture: Keith Heppell. (43650705)
Cambridge Arts Theatre Dame Trott's Panto Palaver stars Matt Crosby and Stephen Beckett take to the streets of Cambridge . Picture: Keith Heppell. (43650705)

The biggest applause of the night went to the topical 12 Days of Christmas. If you were in any doubt that theatre should,in fact, be viable then that scene alone would have convinced you.

The evening ended on a much more emotional note. Theatre did what it has always done best, it made its audience laugh and then it made us cry. The cast, led by Dick Whittington (Lucy May Baker) finished the show by singing Abba’s Thank you for the Music. Never have the lyrics felt more poignant. It was impossible to not think of the uncertain future faced by performers and theatres across the UK. It’s thought that 70% of venues won’t survive, having lost £330 million this year. I felt incredibly lucky to be sitting in one, being entertained. 2020 has been a year like no other and this is a Christmas panto like no other. Spirit lifting in an otherwise gloomy year. As Dame Trott said “you can’t stop theatre”.

  • Dame Trott’s Panto palaver is showing at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until Jan 3, 2020.Tickets from Cambridgeartstheatre.com. Adults £30. Children £20.


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