With seating arranged in pods marked with elegant red ribbons, lashings of hand sanitiser and visor-wearing staff guiding audiences and delivering interval ice creams, we felt completely safe and thoroughly delighted to be back at the Everyman Theatre.
After ten months of Zoom quizzes, Netflix binges and the occasional streamed performance, we have never looked forward to seeing a REAL LIFE show anywhere near as much, as the curtain lifted on Tweedy’s (Reduced) Pantomime….
In a similar way to a Reduced Shakespeare show, the Everyman’s new pantomime squeezed in storylines from all the pantos (expertly recited by Tweedy!), with Cheltenham theatregoers treated to terrifically lo-fi excerpts from everything from Cinderella and Babes in the Wood to Peter Pan and Dick Whittington – of course, there was plenty of Dick!
Loosely squished together in a humorously original plot – we don’t want to spoil the whole storyline – the original production made a refreshing change from the traditional tales trotted out each year, and we really rather preferred not knowing what would go wrong next.
With the pantomime ‘guaranteed to have more laughs than cast’, the hardworking band of actors each played multiple roles, nicely drawing on their own individual talents.
There are all the characters you might expect from traditional panto: a brilliant and saucy dame gently crucifying a poor chap in the front row (Kevin Brewis); a handsome, cross-dressing, backflipping prince (Ben Darcy); incredibly camp sidekick (Kane Verrall) returning with infectious high energy and intentional overacting in a bid to win a Pantomime Award; a beautiful princess / left-hooking boxer (Casey Al-Shaqsy) and dazzling Tina Turner-singing Godmother / nurse (Tsemaye Bob-Egbe).
There was also an eye-rolling baddie to whisper boos at under your face mask (played by writer Samuel Holmes) who also delivered a hilarious cat impression; plenty of trademark physical humour courtesy of the always brilliant Tweedy the clown – back for his ninth Everyman panto; and then there’s Alys! The hilariously unenthusiastic Assistant Stage Manager, Alys Robinson (and yes, it’s her actual real-life job!) who gets roped in to help with props and proved the unlikely star of the show.
With topical jokes, so much sanitiser, screams of ‘TWO METRES’, Barnard Castle, plenty of Boris and Trump impressions and an absolutely brilliantly-choreographed comedy routine involving a feather duster, frying pan, rubber gloves, truncheon, boxing gloves and tennis racquet, we’d argue it is the funniest Everyman Theatre pantomime yet.
While the lavish, no-expense spared scenery and sparkly costumes might have been slightly pared back, Tweedy’s (Reduced) Pantomime at the Everyman Theatre was actually a lot less ‘reduced’ than we expected – with the fabulously talented cast working tirelessly to pull off a show every bit as entertaining as previous years, in a theatre half-full. They could not have done a better job.
At the tail end of a thoroughly devastating year for the arts, however good Tweedy’s (Reduced) Pantomime was – and it really was brilliant! – we were thankful simply to be back seated in the Everyman Theatre’s historic auditorium, enjoying the hard work of talented professionals whose complete livelihoods have been halted for almost a year.
An annual tradition for so many theatregoers across Gloucestershire – almost 50,000 last year – in previous years the Everyman Theatre’s panto dance routines, sparkles and cheeky gags would have been a taken for granted treat, but this year it meant so much more.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s gratitude. And an optimism that pantomime, British theatres and the arts industry will be back stronger than ever in 2021.
By Michelle Fyrne
Tuesday 08 December 2020
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