With the twinkle of Christmas lights and a flutter of magic, Essex’s Theatre Arts Society gifted us with their festive pantomime, The Nutcracker, last week.
The society is garnering a stellar reputation with each effervescent event; from their pantomime Peter Pan last year, their socials and weekly coaching sessions, to their upcoming spring show Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The Nutcracker saw the return of esteemed director Nifemi Wilson-Adu, who directed Peter Pan last Christmas. Between her and director Ena Chiara Teglovic, they created a high energy performance crackling with laughter and jokes – a pantomime to remember.
Jasmine Thompson was a spectacular Clara, her character headstrong and determined. George Goddard’s Nutcracker was the perfect complement to her character: protective, heroic, and sweet. Their performances were as harmonious as their voices in every number they sang together.
Director Nifemi emphasised the relationship between the two leads in her directing, and described specific ‘Chemistry Sessions’ with only herself, George and Jasmine.
Nifemi said, “I’m a big romantic, so for me, the biggest thing is you guys believing that they’re falling in love. I worked with those two a lot, and for the number ‘Count on Me’ [by Bruno Mars] I told them, ‘Oh, you need to serenade each other, it needs to be believable.’ I was so proud of it, and they were so good.”
The room was filled with ‘Awe’s as the number ended and after nearly every sweet moment between the pair, cementing George and Jasmine as the sweetest duo in the show.
But, in a mark of truly excellent directing, Nifemi and Ena looked beyond Clara and the Nutcracker to give us more depth in every aspect. We were treated to a sassy sisterhood of fairies, a chaotic cohort of rats, and a handful of other standout-characters to cheer along.
“We saw what the cast were able to do, and then we just wanted more of them” Ena said.
Nifemi explained, “I really wanted not just the whole story to come together, but I also wanted you to fall in love with each of the individual characters as well. All the characters got their moments, and you got to see what makes them unique.”
Much to our delight, Nifemi and Ena achieved all of this and more. Cadbury and Galaxy (Bryony Palmer and Tyler Reuben) were dynamite on stage, arguing back and forth to elevate each other’s performances. They were exceedingly chaotic, weaving a tapestry of laughter around their hilarious dialogue.
Natalie Heath was the perfect choice for the Sugarplum Fairy, with her sugar-sweet singing enchanting us all from the very first scene. The dynamic between the fairies also developed as the show progressed, with Warimi Karogo as Shaeexpertly establishing a rivalry between fellow fairy Uma, played by Leah Malkinson.
Leah developed her character, Uma, as well as designing the costumes, adding her magic touch to the shimmery fairy wings and the rats’ handsome waistcoats. She and Gabrielle Crook choreographed some excellent dances, the rats’ dance to Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ being a standout number, not to mention the choreography for the fight scene to ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ with “four different things happening at once,” as director Ena pointed out. The choreographers expertly ensured the ensemble used every inch of the stage for each routine.
“I have to give a shout out to the ensemble,” Nifemi said, “Because they had the most dances out of everyone to do, and the most costume changes – and they brought it every single number. I’m so proud of all of them.”
While our heroes befriended fairies and chefs, and the rats screeched and scrambled across the stage, Clara’s uncle Drosselmeyer (Liam Cox), brother Tommy (CJ Wright-Bailey) and Aunt Edna (Juliet Ware) were seemingly none the wiser in the real world.
CJ had the audience in stitches with their slang, rap, and roadman-esque humour, and was a brilliant source of comedy for the show in its opening scenes. Liam also fulfilled his role as the overbearing and strict uncle, propelling Clara to her destiny.
But, in a fabulous twist, the secret instrument to the story was Aunt Edna, the secret Sugarplum Princess, who returned both magic and royalty to the kingdom. Juliet kept the audience hooked by seamlessly fitting into the classic ‘Dame’ role, picking on men in the audience and performing ‘Dear Future Husband’ with the appropriate comedic pining for romance in her life. She turned the cliche on its head in the second act, where she revealed her mysterious past and defeated her dreaded ex-boyfriend, the Rat King, all while fabulously dressed in a bubble-gum pink wig and voluptuous floral skirts.
Juliet was the perfect sum of sass, confidence and playfulness; the audience cheered as she got her happy ending with not just one, but both royal chefs on her arms.
The pantomime was a creative triumph in every regard, from Eben McCarthy’s “technically and brilliantly minded” lighting designs, to Jade Marie’s spectacular writing.
Will Tennison, who is known for directing ‘One Man Down’ and ‘The Tree’, ensured a smooth process as production manager; as did Elise Roberts as stage manager, and Harry Harris and Samuel Bell as technical managers. Some members of the backstage crew: Susannah Eiden, Shannon Houghton, Eden Camara, Corey Lee, and Emma Kopf, even made it onto the stage themselves, with Corey dressed in a pink tutu and wings for the singalong at the end.
What a truly cracking show.