Darnall Musical Theatre Company’s Humpty Dumpty – 17 February 2022, Darnall Education Centre

Review by Callam Fellows.

As a panto fan, I was eggcited to see a  panto that I’d not seen before. With most groups cycling the same big titles and festive theatre offerings being inundated with Cinderellas and Aladdins, I am always happy to see groups deviate from the norm and take a risk by opting for something less conventional. Humpty Dumpty, though an iconic nursery rhyme name known to all, is scarcely seen in the panto circuit. Due to the narrative of the nursery rhyme being limited to Humpty Dumpty falling off a wall with no resolution, perhaps panto producers worry that it wouldn’t provide much of a plot. This show, however, with a fairy whisking us away to Nursery Rhyme Land, the circus, and strangely outer space, doesn’t shy from adventure. The opening number of “We’re Doing A Panto”, a play on a muppet melody featuring the whole cast was a great way to start the show and welcome the show’s return.

Firstly a special mention to the lighting and effects team of Dean Pepper, Scott Quince and Connor Gray. The stage was decorated in a variety of colourful lights with an array of pyrotechnics of flashes, bangs, and poofs of smoke. It made the show a very impressive display and they should be commended for it.

Natasha Blackwell was skilled as the evil Eggnog. Knowing how long to leave the audience booing before speaking, she made herself heard and her presence known.

Chairman, producer and assistant director Jack Taylor also played the Dame with great gusto. The running gag of “I didn’t get a wink of sleep last night” had the audience eagerly anticipating what hilarious hijinx had kept the dame awake all night.

Beth Black as Topsy Turvy was instantly likeable and had great rapport with the audience. Either cracking eggs or cracking jokes, the way she laughed at herself was infectious. A kid sat laughing behind me said “She’s funny isn’t she?” and I couldn’t have put it better myself. 

I wonder if Humpty had the best seat as sitting on the wall came with leg room.

I understand theatre groups can only work with the size of the venue, and there’s clearly been high demand for tickets as all performances sold out, but the seats were packed too tightly together. We all know of the dreaded theatre seat shuffle past others to get to your seat. Here though entire rows had to exit their seats to let others through. Despite the venue trying to ensure safety by encouraging sanitising and requesting face masks be worn, it is the first time since theatres reopened I’ve felt unsafe. Not only by being so crammed in amongst so many people, but also after someone sat nearby joked about a large pyro setting the place alight. It occurred to me that should the worst happen, how difficult a prompt and calm evacuation would be. The seat placement needs re-evaluating for future productions.

I must also say that there was a sound issue. Microphones would at points, though only on occasion, feedback or suffer interference. On top of that many lines were so quiet they could not be heard. For such a small venue, I’m not even sure if microphones would be a necessity if the actor has the required amount of projection. There are some great jokes in this script, it’d be a shame for any of them to be missed so I encourage all those on stage to speak a little louder than they usually would.

In conclusion though I want to congratulate Darnall Musical Theatre Company. I want to congratulate them on branching out and successfully staging an unconventional panto title. I want to congratulate them on taking to the stage again after an unexpected absence last year. And I want to congratulate them on their 50th year of panto. Here’s to many more!

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