Amongst the many delights of the wonderful season of Christmas is the annual treat served up by the famous Hanwell and Ealing Operatic Society Musical Theatre and this year’s production of Dick Whittington and his Cat proved to be an absolute Christmas cracker.
This was one of the best HEOS presentations that I’ve been privileged to see and it is very much to the credit of Anna Barber and Dawn Wightman who somehow managed the seemingly impossible by combining the duties of Director and Choreographer.
Dawn did not entirely escape the lime light as I suspect that I spotted her along with musical director Denise Murphy in the roles of a pair of evil rat lieutenants – Gnawbone and Gnashfang.
This was a real family panto and, as ever with HEOS, the costumes and stage settings were magnificent and the front of house welcome unsurpassed.
Of all the Christmas productions I so love to see HEOS always impresses me with the friendly and family centred atmosphere during the interval and before and after the actual play.
A team that usually includes a few Yoxalls and a fair sprinkling of Murphys has earned the title of “family panto” in more ways than one and I heard many people saying how much they enjoyed a traditional Christmas outing instead of the increasingly unappealing fare offered up on the television.
It is neither easy nor fair to single out individual performances in what was very much a collective achievement but it would be all but impossible to avoid making mention of the terrifying Queen Rat (Anne Murphy) who caused fear and revulsion in equal measure while actually managing to play the part of the pantomime villain with great skill – and not a little menace!
Ginge Anderson is an actor new to me but his avuncular Alderman Fitzwarren suggests that we shall see more of him in the future and Andrew Murphy as Captain Cuttle proved that thespian talent is actually genetically transferrable and he was a credit to the Murphy tradition.
Chris Yoxall was superb as Idle Jack and I’ve seen him play this type of part so many times that I could be excused for thinking that it is easy. Nothing can be as hard as the comic lead’s part and Chris has perfected the rare skill of being able to manipulate the audience and keep the young people roaring with laughter while never slowing the action down.
Talking of Yoxalls – Jenny Y. was just brilliant as a thigh slapping Dick Whittington and the next generation of Greenford’s premier theatrical dynasty is starting to take shape.
Fairy Bow Bells (Anne Costello) looked to have stepped down from the top of the Christmas tree and she certainly sprinkled magic dust over the audience while Aimee Finnerty as Alice Fitzwarren gave a winsome and heart melting performance that presented a considerable contrast to the outrageous activities of Mike Fox as Sarah the Cook. Truly a Great Dame – even if the disturbing image lingers on in the memory.
Ashlan Richards played Tommy the Cat with great skill and showed that even scampering across the stage can involve real acting – as well as considerable physical ability.
Elizabeth Murphy was a delightful and regal Queen Neptuna and the evening would have been incomplete without the traditional HEAO underwater ballet which was very much up to the usual high standard.
Chloe Jagannath was an island queen who seemed to have been born to the part and she managed to combine the role with some excellent dancing – as did Deborah Alawode as a sailor and a dancer if not a dancing sailor.
Stars of the future were visible in Mary Bull, Bronte Currie, Simran Hutchinson and in the “babes” – Isabel Barrett, Catherine Bull, Charlotte Coogan, Ana Lucia Currie, Serena Currie, Emilie Fawcett, Tessa Harris and Clementine Orford.
The actors and directors rightly get the lion’s share of attention but the rest of the HEOS family deserves a mention and none more than Stage Manager Sue Yoxall, Musical Director Denise Murphy and the sultan of sound – Keith Spillett – and the lord of lighting – Nigel Lewis.
For me this was a moment away from the grim realities of life and an opportunity to suspend all disbelief and allow the magic of Christmas to sweep you off to a magic land that seemed far from the familiar Greenford Hall.
There was a typical idiosyncratic HEOS touch to be found hidden deep within the credits.
Between Front of House (Anna and Dave Barber), Programme producer (Margaret Partridge) Raffle Organiser (Eileen Nolder) and credits to Alistair McIntosh and Fiona MacKay for sponsoring three backcloths between them was the entry: Cast cakes – Sue Yoxall.
Only HEOS would take the trouble to arrange a steady supply of cakes to the cast and who better to co-ordinate this than Sue Yoxall.
Thank you HEOS for one of the best Christmas presents a person could ask for – I’ll be booking now for next year!