The Magical Adventure of Anastasia
Liam Mellor for Star Pantomimes in association with The New Players Theatre
New Players Theatre
Every once in a while someone decides to have a go at introducing a new pantomime title. The success stories are, of course, Peter Pan and Snow White, but what about that Russian legend of long-lost Princess Anastasia? Perhaps a tale of family murder and Russian Revolution seems a little deep for festive entertainment, but with a candyfloss film version made in 1997, Star Pantomimes have pantomised the title and created The Magical Adventure of Anastasia.
When Anastasia is separated from her family by the evil Rasputin, a reward is offered should anyone find and reunite her with her Grandmother. Hearing this, Olga and her son Dimitri plan to offer up any old girl in the hope that Anastasia's Grandmother might just fall for it. But when a waif from the street wanders in looking just like the missing princess, Olga and Dimitri's luck begins to change.
As Olga, John Triggs' Dame resembles a Leigh Francis creation from Bo' Selecta! She gurns, struts and constantly has to deal with her overtly large bosom which seems to have a life all of its own.
Phil Bishop makes a keen Dimitri and, as the piece's Villain, Rasputin, Stuart Brannan does his best to elicit boos whilst wrestling with his cape and wig. His nice-but-dim sidekick Tushi, played by Kit Allsopp, tries to create rapport with the audience, but comes across as rather awkward and needs to work on his comic timing.
Thankfully, Star Productions really have found a star in Meg Rayner as Anastasia. When the acting around her constantly flags, she carries on like a trooper and truly shines. Her musical numbers are beautifully sung and become a much appreciated distraction from the directional mess onstage.
Even Mr Bean's appearance is a disappointment. As the Duchess' Lord Chamberlain, he contributes nothing to the production and his mute responses to the dialogue around him demonstrate why such 'special appearance' skin roles are almost extinct. Money and effort used on securing his rights would have been better spent on other aspects of the production, such as scenographic design.
Scene Change Studios' cloths appear dead, dull, creased and faded and the production's costumes resemble a mismatched jumble sale of items, fresh from the dressing up box. Anastasia looks as though she's just come off the streets, having bought a bargain from the local Top Shop and, in the Second Act, Olga enters in a leather police uniform for no apparent reason. Tushi's outfit resembles children's pyjamas and the junior ensemble appear in rock 'n' roll polka dot dresses as Villagers in freezing cold Russia. It may be pantomime, but such things can only be pushed so far...
Sound and lighting cues are rather shaky and the production seems void of any artistic concept or vision. Sinead Bailey and Ceri Marin's choreography is extremely simplistic and during musical numbers principals are often left to their own devices, which results in Triggs air-guitaring for a considerable amount of time during 'Back in the U.S.S.R'.
Star Pantomimes must be commended on their boldness to create a new pantomime title; however there are clear reasons as to why Anastasia has never been embraced by other producers. Unfortunately, this production fails to convince anyone that it will become a festive staple of future pantomime seasons.
'The Magical Adventure of Anastasia' plays until 8th January 2011
Reviewer: Simon Sladen