Tea Tree Players
Tea Tree Players Theatre
Until 08 Dec 2018

Review by Anthony Vawser

December is almost upon us – so ‘tis the season to be merry, especially when it comes to live theatre! The Tea Tree Players want nothing more this Christmas than to put a smile on your face, and this latest in their long-running yearly musical pantomimes will do just that for all and sundry.

One of the more delightful aspects of this particular “Puss in Boots” by Ben Crocker – as in many of the best pantomimes – is its ability to spin a number of workable twists into both the traditional tale it is telling as well as the common conventions of ‘panto’, while still adhering to many of those same conventions and successfully mining solid laughs from them. Acting as a kind of de facto MC for the show, Rhiannon Shapcott makes her character of Bobbi an infectiously confident and cheerful guide through the fantasy world of this play.

The ensemble cast are a delight, bringing warmth and good spirits to the stage even when the material they’re working with gets a little shaky, or when vocal quality is noticeably uneven. Shining with exceptional brightness is Amber Platten, bringing professional-level skills to her princess part. Kristyn Barnes carries an effective air of innocence – combining with strong stage presence – in the role of young hero Jack; she and Platten make for a sympathetic and striking romantic pair.

A number of quite marvellous ‘double acts’ do a great job at generating joy and good vibes in this show; Harrison Morris and Soren Kubenk (Jasper and Jethro) have fun chemistry with Jaye Syson and Georgina Giessauf (Babs and Betty) in their goofy-but-likeable offsider roles, while the good and bad fairy are each given plenty of juice in their portrayals by Hayley Mitchell and Theresa Dolman respectively.

Michaela Arnold and Annika Rose complement each other well as the two versions of the title character, while Barry Hill’s delicious Queen Wendy comes close to stealing the show – but not even Her Majesty’s domineering nature can keep Frank Cwiertniak’s King Wally silent forever; their relationship is one of the comic highlights. Steve Mulady makes his villainous ogre cuddly enough that the little ones won’t be too scared, and Penny Phillips capably rounds out the principal cast in the role of Millie the Maid.

Robert Andrews’ direction never lets the action or humour get bogged down for too long, and his sound design adds to the comic texture, while Mike Phillips’ lighting serves each scene well and shows off the especially impressive painted backdrops. Lisa Wilton delivers a number of strong looks in the area of make-up, Beth Venning reliably provides props, and Jo Allenby contributes colourful costumes (SM David Kinna even makes a semi-appearance in the midst of his smooth marshalling of proceedings).

Hopefully this reviewer has provided you with more than enough reasons why this “Puss in Boots” is the show you want to see for a feel-good time in the theatre.