IF there’s one entertainment guaranteed to fill seats at the Windmill Theatre it must be the annual post-Christmas pantomime.
And evidence of the enduring appeal of this January date was provided yet again last week when Littlehampton Musical Comedy Society staged their latest production.
There were packed houses at the seafront venue for performances of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, scripted for the group by Janet Webb, one of their own members.
She also co-choreographed and co-directed (with producer Lynne Jones).
And joined by musical director Daniel Paine, this trio devised and delivered another huge success for the company.
It was, indeed, one of the very best pantomimes in the society’s long and illustrious history.
And I certainly feel qualified to make such a judgment since I have been reviewing their shows from the society’s earliest days back in 1952.
A European legend that involves the mass abduction of children from a German city in the Middle Ages, The Pied Piper might seem a curious choice of subject for a lighthearted family affair.
But any lingering doubts about its suitability were dispelled when the curtain went up on last Wednesday’s opening night.
It quickly became obvious this was a very free adaptation of the original and emphasis was going to be on fun and frolics in the expected pantomime tradition.
The author had even engineered a completely happy ending.
There were some modern touches, including a generous helping of pop songs, but mainly we stayed with familiar and popular pantomime ingredients, often requiring much audience participation.
Chorus members worked hard in the musical numbers, with excellent vocalising and energetic dancing, costumes were colourful and eye catching, settings basic but attractive and the musical accompaniment firstrate.
The panto provided an ideal showcase for the society’s comedy talents and let me say right away how grand it was to welcome back landscape gardener Daryl Jones, resuming the role of dame after an absence of some years and demonstrating that he still had amazingly winning ways in drag, a great sense of humour and the ability to adlib his way out of any situation.
I also enjoyed the work of Alexei Hawkey and Craig Harbor, a great comedy duo as Scally and Wag.
Described as the “Ant and Dec of the rat world,” they were the halfwitted assistants of the rodent king, a part that enabled Gary Spight to be truly evil.
The most appealing contribution, though, came from delightful Michelle Shepherd-Ede, a joy to watch, all arms and legs, as the civic gardener Sammy.
She literally achieved her ambition to “bounce back” after a two year absence through ill health.
Emma Clothier gave elegance and style to the title role, while John Carroll successfully took over the part of the mayor at just two weeks’ notice.
Romantic interest with pleasing vocals was capably handled by 17-year-old Sam Kirkwood and 16-year-old Sophie Shepherd.
Completing the cast were Ian Sheppard (as the pompous town clerk), Penny Rendell, Damone Whittle and Emma Haddock.