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Three Bears Go Mad in Duns

NOTBAd is reeling – only November and we’ve had our 2011 panto cherry plucked unseasonably early.   We knew we should have listened when everyone kept warning “It’s behind you!” at the top of their voice.  But no.  We knew best, and now we’re paying the price by trying to scrub the startled look off our face four days later.

The Duns & District Amateur Operatic Society’s annual panto has become hotly anticipated in recent years largely thanks to the careful steering of Euan McIver, who has brought to bear his many years of experience in professional panto.  This year, however, the helm has been taken by Peter Lerpiniere with his production of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

As the jokes rolled out and the insanity descended some of the audience may have had a feeling of déjà vu, a sense of out-of-body floatiness.   Let us put your mind at rest – you weren’t suffering from a brain bleed.  Peter Lerpiniere wrote a first draft of Goldilocks and the Three Bears with Frank Barker when they were co-conspirators on the fondly regarded and long-running Emergency Services Panto.  Despite a parting of the ways and several rewrites down the line, its provenance still remains clear.

Briefly then, Molly Coddles (Euan McIver) has fallen behind with the rent and is threatened with eviction by evil landowner, the Squire (Rick Mondeau), unless Molly’s daughter, Goldilocks (Caitlin Daley), marries him.  Repulsed by the idea of marrying a man whose idea of laughing her into bed would run along the lines of “Mwah-hah-hah-hah,” Goldilocks flees and seeks sanctuary in the home of the Three Bears.  Meanwhile, the Squire’s dim henchmen – Slick and Slack (Katie Short and Caitlin Russell respectively) – trash the bears’ house, a crime for which Goldilocks is apprehended and put on trial.  There’s the traditional happy ending with a same-sex union.

(NOTBAd accepts no responsibility for any errors, inaccuracies or omissions in the above.)

True to its roots, G&TTB had the same strengths as an Emergency Services panto – warmth, humour, inclusivity, double entendres by the bucket- (oo-er) load, and great audience interaction.   Disappointingly though, it shared a few of the problems, namely unevenness and pacing issues.

That said, the performances themselves were a delight and a special mention must go to the bears – Alex Wilson as Daddy Bear, Lynn Gray as Mummy Bear, and Claudia Watson as Baby Bear.

Sure, we’ve all heard of dancing bears, but have you heard of bears throwing shapes?  No?  Well, Mummy Bear was one ursine mother funker,  let us tell you.  If a video of Lynn getting down in her bear suit doesn’t go viral then the invention of the internet was nothing but an exercise in geeky futility.  And Baby Bear Claudia; so painfully cute in her fuzzy ears that we thought we’d fallen through a portal into an Andrew Brownsword greeting card.  Think of a Cossak kitten on puppy horseback, riding through a drift of blossom.  DEFCON 1 on the scale of Ovary Alert.

The Three Bears - Alex Wilson, Lynn Gray and Claudia Watson

Amazeballs should be bowled in DC Conroy’s direction too as PC Gone Mad.  What has happened to DC in recent years?  Gone is the stage fright, the helpless corpsing, the lack of eye contact.  He’s become a comic tour de force while our back was turned.   Your outrageous policeman stereotype was above and beyond the call of duty, sir, one of the highlights of the entire show.

And then we come to the highlight of the show.  Molly Coddle’s duet with the Squire – a deeply disturbing routine that will haunt men with a fear of skincare regimes forever.   NOTBAd found itself honking with delight as desperate Molly – in a splendidly snug and flesh-coloured spangly frock – and the less-than-keen Squire thrust and parried lines of an adapted “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in complementary tenors.  Priceless.

Euan McIver as Molly, Rick Mondeau as the evil Squire

Now.  Singing.  Everyone in G&TTB could undeniably hold a tune, but indulge us for a moment as we return to our soapbox in order to encourage people to perform their songs.

Caitlin Daley as Goldilocks and Eilidh Bell as her love interest, Bob, struggled a little with this one: while they were both adept at delivering their lines, the energy dropped on occasion as they inadvertently slipped out of character to sing.

Let’s be clear here – there is nothing more terrifying to an inexperienced performer than singing on stage (except maybe simulating sex, but with bears and kids around that would have been a plot twist too far).   Blimey, Caitlin and Eilidh did well to hit all the right notes.  However, here’s a simple trick to remember in future which will help with the nerves – worry about your singing less and commit to your character more.   Use your character as a disguise.  The audience will be so impressed they’ll forgive a light sprinkle of duff notes.   Think Rex Harrison – a man incapable of singing a bar yet he got away with it because he sang/spoke entirely in character.

Overall then, Goldilocks and the Three Bears was a good start to the panto season.  The choreographer, Sarah Aitken, raised the dancing standard to something beyond what can normally be expected from an amateur production, and both adult and junior choruses deserve a massive pat on the back for their energetic and wholehearted participation.

The sheer numbers involved in this production beggared belief.   It was like a Cecil B. DeMille epic.  Not just a cast of thousands, but all the backstage crew as well, busy with anything from scenery and costumes to programmes.   Can you imagine the organisation required?  No wonder the ball started rolling back in August.  And to think we at NOTBAd have trouble sorting our washing into lights and darks…

So well done, D&DAOS, for delivering such an audience-pleaser and well done, director Mr Lerpiniere, for keeping all the balls in the air and ably handling such a large cast.

Finally, one thing that did make us come over all unnecessary: the script was overlong by thirty to forty minutes.  Whole scenes could have been cut without affecting the plot.   Having collaborated with Peter in the past, this isn’t surprising.  Peter is very much a ‘big picture’ man, happiest when throwing out ideas, miserable when forcing his imagination to fit the attention spans of antsy kids with tiny bladders.

And this is a shame because if  Peter had edited more – refined the script,  shortened the songs, slashed the musical interludes – a good show could have been a really great one.

Emergency Services Panto, Dick’s All at Sea!, The Maltings Theatre, Berwick-upon-Tweed, 2nd–4th February 2012, 7.30pm

D&DAOS, The Sound of Music, Duns Volunteer Hall, 4th–7th April 2012

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