Monday 04 March 2013
Who knew? Who knew that behind all those shy, retiring lido personalities was hidden so much raw and exciting stage ability? God we’re a talented bunch. Saying ‘we’ is a blatant bit of bandwagon jumping - all the praise goes to the on-and off-stage crew of the world’s first lido pantomime.
The show had everything one could hope for from a panto, with some added Tooting touches. We had songs, audience participation, dancing belles and geese. We had surreal polar bears and malfunctioning toasters. Re-worked lyrics, sing-alongs, a glittering fairy godmother with a magic toilet brush. Romance, bromance and the blurring of gender roles via felt pen moustaches. A fab three-piece band and two hard-working scene shifters. It was a paean to our shared love of cold-water swimming through the medium of farce. Fabulous.
In panto, no one is ever quite what they seem, and here we had men dressed as women who loved men and women dressed as men who lusted after other men and each other. Relationship status: it’s complicated. Carol Farrow and Toni Greig subtly played out the homoerotic tension between two buff lifeguards admiring each others pecs. And Chris Stanton as Baron Hardup eventually won the lycra-yearning heart of Nando Farah – they make such a lovely couple. It’s al ways nice to see someone willing to go that extra mile for a role, so props to Nando for shaving his entire body hair for the role. Smooth, Nando. That’s gonna itch.
Vince Burke as Charming Dan and Jonathan Cowie as Mankini were obviously comfortable in their roles as Men About Town, posing like expert catalogue underwear models, studs to the core. The central romance, the only straight relationship in sight (not counting the polar bears), is normally the dullest bit of a musical, but not here. And while Vince eventually found his princess in Doro Stoffels, my favourite couple of the night were Mankini and Zipper. Barbara Jennings was a cross between TinTin and, well, Jennings. Brilliantly cartoony and full of boyish enthusiasm (skills that I hope she brings to her day job if not her swimming) it was great to see her, no him (I think) finally get his man.
Great dancing and songs are the backbone of a good panto, and the lovely dancing belles provided the former, while there was some tiptop singing from the cast, never shy of a bit of campery. Show-tunes galore – Doro gets special mention for I Dreamed a Dream (Kylie would have definitely spun her chair for that) and I Need Some Lycra and the Grease classic were both belters. But the prize for best song definitely goes to the home-grown I Love Tooting, which we’ll be humming all year.
A few special mentions. To Lucy Neal for leading the communal singing as a glorious fairy godmother in full rhyming couplet. To the matinee ducklings bringing GROWN MEN to tears, if you can imagine such a thing. The set, designed by Nando and painted by Pip Tunstill was a great backdrop to some great costumes. Make up was fab, Steve Rowson on lights and Charlotte Simon on sound never missed a cue, and by all accounts, Jessica Higgs was a great singing coach so a special thanks from the audience to her. There was a well-judged amount of in-jokes and no panto would be complete without a smattering of smut, provided by Chris Stanton playing to his strengths. All of it brought together by the formidable hand of Hilary Jennings.
Part of what I love about the Tooting Lido community is what people are capable of. Every single volunteer – from front of house enthusiasts selling programmes and beer, to those in the spotlight - showed our trademark energy and commitment, all in the cause of panto. It might be the world’s first, but something tells me this was not the last. Sue Brearley, talented writer and lyricist, I hope you’re working on next years show already. Something tells me there could be a very long queue at the auditions.
By Jenny Landreth