If Olympic gold medals were handed out for audience participation, then spectators at The Community Players’ panto would be standing in the prime spot on the winners’ podium.
However, their reward is being part of Team GB even though they’re reminded that the glittering games were five months ago.
The GB group hug theme running through the panto Hansel and Gretel is fitting, given that The Community Players are such good sports. Their pantos are gold runs netting thousands of pounds for organisations in north Derbyshire, from Ashgate Hospice to elderly people’s luncheon clubs.
Spare tickets are like gold dust and being part of the panto experience at Hasland Playhouse you can see why.
I’ve been to dozens of amateur pantomimes and never experienced a crowd reaction like I did at this one last night (Thursday, January 24).
Spectators were cheering, clapping, teasing cast members, joining in a Mexican wave, doing all the actions to Y Viva Espana and, dare I say it, one sounded just like Stormy the cackling witch as she laughed all the way through the show.
That kind of reaction may be because of friends, family and work colleagues in the audience but even impartial spectators like myself, get swept along in the tidal wave of panto fever. That’s due in no small part to the effort, energy and enthusiasm put in by the cast, under the direction of scriptwriter Imelda Cole.
Mark Johnson is a riot as the Shirebrook-born dame Zelda who hangs out with the gypsies of Holmewood but hankers for a return to Spain. He’s as colourful as the lampshade-style skirt and outrageous wigs he wears, bringing an injection of warm humour and audience interaction to a cold winter’s evening. Adrian Barker, as Zelda’s son Boldo, is tasked with revving up spectators with his Team GB catchphrase and they play ball every time.
Angie Burns is knockout as Witch Stormy - I’ve seen professional actors playing less convincing villains than hers. She sweeps around the stage like a black widow spider drawing its prey into a large web and that cackle is still ringing in the ears long after she leaves the stage.
As the Sheriff Zorro, who is often mistaken for George Clooney or Johnny Depp, Tom Oxley plays the archetypal bad turned good panto character. His scene stealer is the song Living La Vida Loco, accompanied by dancing girls from Tupton-based Primary Colours.
Newcomer Niall Burns makes a sparkling debut in the role of Hansel and golden-voiced Sophie Lisi brings her singing talents to the role of Gretel. Both convey the fear and fascination of children alone in a forest who are enticed by a tempting gingerbread house.
Steven Collis as the children’s dad Boris the Woodcutter may have a small role in the show but he makes the most of it, especially in the scene where he’s saying a tear-jerking goodbye to Hansel and Gretel, “Could he get any more dramatic?” quipped a fellow spectator.
Beg, borrow or steal a ticket for Hansel and Gretel. It’s running until Saturday, February 2.