BEING masked and wrapped up in a ventilated room didn’t stop an admiring audience from enjoying Roadwater Players’ latest pantomime, The Rat King, at Roadwater Village Hall last week.
It was the last collaboration between director Sarah Kingsford and her screenwriter daughter, Katherine. Recalling their previous shows – Dracula’s Christmas, Nellie the Elephant and Jabberwocky, regular The Players supporters would have known they could expect the unusual.
Katherine’s script cleverly incorporated almost every category of character and pantomime element. She started with what is usually the end – the wedding walk, giving us the chance to meet the people of Sweet Honeyland in a beautifully evocative landscape created by the talented Rob Hand, who had plenty of room for his skills and his inventiveness as the show progressed.
After bidding farewell in music to their newly married daughter (Brenda Mandziej) and her prince (Jacqueline Heard), Richard and Jacqui Higgins – as king and queen in formal costume – were pleasantly at home among their citizens, although they had an armed guard behind them!
Dolly Mixture (Nige McBrayne in the characteristic form of floating eyelashes) was named Dame in a Mass Goodwill Dub by Her Majesty and immediately established her presence and affectionately greeted “Silly” Billy Bumpkin, played by Peter Roberts with a appropriate awkwardness.
As her pet, Felix the Cat (feared by the Rat King), young Lucia Marsh-Jarvis made up for the role’s obvious verbal limitations with convincing feline demeanor. However, the alpha female of that particular moment was the Fairy Maid (Lizzy Callaghan in “Christmas Tree Top” outfit), who compared in rhymed couplets.
With the festivities over, the Rat King, played with the usual confidence by Chris Marshall, entered to stir the audience with the declaration of his intention to end all happy endings.
His young accomplices, Squeak and Eek, played by Ethan Williams and Daisy-Mae Crook and too endearing to be truly malicious, were ordered to annoy the villagers, while the Rat King would enlist the help of the Raven Queen ( Phaedra Rush).
Our comedic duo appeared as corvids Mag Pie (Sallyann King) and Jak Daw (Benedict Lintott), and throughout the show amused the audience during the scene changes.
These were handled smoothly and quickly by director Allan Prentice’s team of Chris Sampson, Steve Marsh, Paul Richards and Neil Wilson, with Nancy Marshall i / c Curtain.
Our introduction to the Raven Queen did not disappoint. Dressed by dean of wardrobe John Osborn, assisted by seamstress Linda Bickford, Phaedra Rush soared in a stunning outfit topped with a headdress worthy of the Rio carnival, and proceeded to assure us of her meanness.
Dame Dolly, guided to this spooky place by Mag and Jak, applied for a cleaning job, to the Queen’s bewilderment, and was hired. The resulting cleanliness and fragrance was understandably repugnant to the locals, including the Rat King, who had no trouble persuading the Raven Queen to join her crusade against happy endings.
The “antipanto” movement having been created, the corvids were ordered to be helped by Bella Donna, the wicked witch, played by Jacqueline Heard.
Jacqueline clearly enjoyed being a villain this time around and was found brewing a potion in a huge cauldron (built by Steve Marsh). Her chemistry degree was put to good use, with the help of her familiar toad (Lizzy the good fairy, who looked rather different!).
Dave Walder – in the light and sound box – provided the green tint needed to match Bella’s skin tone, and conjured up appropriate bubble and hiss sounds to accompany her smoke effects.
However, Bella lacked college life and vowed to return to serious science work. Her absence thwarted Mag and Jak, who, in the effort to find something of magical value to take home, destroyed the lair. (Kudos to Peter Roberts on his self-destructing shelving set).
The resulting appearance of Jeanie the Genius (Sarah Reed in a convincing search of “Arabian Nights”) of the broken bottle she had been imprisoned in was followed by the squandering of two of the three wishes she offered, the latest being requisitioned by the Rat King to end it all … yes, you have it.
Back at the Raven Queen’s Castle, we found that the effects of the Rat King’s Wish caused considerable discomfort, especially to the now flea-infested Rat King himself. (Dame Dolly’s green cleaning products were also a problem.)
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