Puss in Boots

Andrew Pollard
Greenwich Theatre
Greenwich Theatre

Kate Malyon (Princess Petit Filou), Alim Jayda (Puss) and Luke Striffler (Sam) Credit: Robert Day
Paul Critoph (King Croissant) and Andrew Pollard (Dame Fruity Fifi) Credit: Robert Day
Andonis Anthony (Count de Cash) Credit: Robert Day

In his ninth pantomime for the Greenwich Theatre, Andrew Pollard serves up yet another entertaining treat which is now a firm favourite of Greenwich's festive calendar.

A title rarely staged, Puss in Boots has enjoyed only ten professional productions since the millennium. Producing a relatively unknown pantomime title can prove dangerous, but Greenwich's box office has already surpassed last year's Robin Hood and has allowed Pollard the artistic freedom to explore and expand the Perrault tale, putting his own particular stamp on it.

Pollard's Puss is set in France, allowing for much French merriment and many a naughty double entendre. Much of the original tale is recognisable with Pollard's tweaks including a Queen of the Cats, an adventure abroad, a trip to outer space and a magical shoemaker elf who installs extra meaning into those all important boots.

At the centre of proceeding's Pollard's Dame Fifi is a gurning delight who drives the show and titillates the parents with her saucy asides. A true commander of the stage, Pollard excels in the role and it is good to see fellow sparring partner Paul Critoph (King Louis Croissant) afforded more stage time this year, even if at times the two appear to enjoy going off-piste a little too much.

As is now expected from a Greenwich Theatre pantomime, Pollard and Critoph share many a comic moment, which this year includes a comedy boxing sequence that puts the slap into slapstick and a crêpe-making scene, which seems a little long-winded and packing in punches at present due to a slow start with little slosh.

As Sam and Princess Petit Filou, Luke Striffler and Kate Malyon continue Greenwich's strong lineage of stunning principal boys and girls with strong voices and stage presence. Their musical numbers buzz with electricity, but both could reign in their performances slightly to avoid losing the sincerity of their love scenes and their romance numbers being met with laughter.

In the title role, Alim Jayda's Puss is a magnificent moggy with plenty of vim and verve. In role, Jayda takes on many of the Comic's functions, shared with Critoph's King, but, as well as being a charismatic character actor, he stuns the audience with his feline agility and strong vocals. During Act Two's mash-up, which begins with 'I'm Still Standing', the audience can't help but join in, having been warmed up as soon as the show began. As ever, Pollard's script ensures the audience are a part of the story from the off, which makes for an enjoyable evening as time is taken to establish the shared community required for pantomime in performance.

With Fenella Fielding as the voice of the Cat Queen via a projected puppet prologue, Puss in Boots does not follow the usual 'good versus bad' framing and means it is almost halfway through the first act until the audience meets the sinister Goblin King in disguise as Count de Cash, played by Andonis Anthony. An established pantomime performer, Anthony is superb as the snarling and snivelling villain, with his years of experience performing in the Oldham Coliseum's annual pantomime making him one of the finest in the industry.

Greenwich's production is one of many in recent years in which the role of the benevolent Immortal has been diminished as pantomimes focus on personal quests. This is exemplified in Puss in Boots not only by Sam's battle against the Goblin King as he fights for Princess Petit Filou's hand, but in how he treats and thanks Puss for his help in a relationship not dissimilar to that of Mother Goose and Priscilla. Twenty-first century pantomime still teaches a moral and demonstrates that magic, luck and chance alone cannot be relied upon to help solve one's problems.

Cleo Pettitt's colourful set revolves to transport the characters on their journey as her Dame costumes revel in playfulness, scene after scene, although Fifi's bathing suit is perhaps a little too much. The show is aesthetically richer than previous years with the addition of glove, sock and shadow puppetry adding to Puss's visual delights, which also include a UV tap dance sequence.

Keeping the audience's toes tapping throughout, the band, under the musical direction of Steven Markwick, produces one of the richest sounds in Pantoland and proves that even with three musicians, a strong and powerful sound can be achieved with the right orchestration and choice of musical numbers. This year's 'Choco-latte' songsheet is an earworm in itself and has every audience member waggling their bums and shimmying all in the name of panto.

Fresh, fun and fruity, Puss in Boots is testament to the creative team and theatre's hard work over the past decade in establishling the Greenwich Theatre as one of the country's leading pantomime playhouses.

Reviewer: Simon Sladen