The Wychwood pantomime

Well worth the wait

Covid has affected everyone in the last two years and, like similar groups, the Wychwood Players were unable to mount any stage productions.  The internet was a welcome outlet and two “radio plays” were released as podcasts by Anthony Gofton, who also organised a welcome revamp of the website which featured a mystery play performed live.

But nothing can replicate performances on stage in front of a live audience, so the bold step was taken last year to put on a pantomime in January 2022.  At that time, indoor events were subject to severe restrictions (don’t tell Boris!) and with “social distancing” a loss was inevitable.

In December, discussions took place whether King Arthur should be cancelled or postponed until a later date, possibly November 2022. There were justifications for all sides of the argument as nobody knew what Covid had in store.  At this late stage of rehearsals, the cast were understandably upset that all their efforts would be in vain and it was eventually agreed that King Arthur’s first night would be 24th February.

By a fortuitous coincidence, this date was subsequently announced as the date when Covid restrictions would be dramatically eased. After the difficulties caused by Covid protocol at rehearsals, the actual performances of King Arthur were a joyful relief.

It had a good script by Paul Reakes, imaginative direction by Mandyrae Jessey and many stand-out performances, including James Dixon as the outrageously brash Dame Guinevere, Kate Bull as evil Morgana, Mark Jessey as magical Merlin and Tony Mellerick as a convincingly down-trodden King. Luke Rasdall and Janice Collins made a most amusing comedy duo as Squirt and Sally. Katie Witts successfully followed on from her debut in A Midsummer’s Night Dream and played Olivia.

The Large family aptly made large contributions to the fun with brothers Rowan and Eliott supported by their choreographer mother, Elizabeth-Rae Large.

The choruses performed effectively; one member, Alfie Arnold, also took on the role of Mordred after the forced withdrawal of the original cast member. More family connections with Alfie’s mother as Stage Manager and James Dixon’s daughter, Keira, impressed as principal boy Lancelot, despite this being her first panto. All while Luke Rasdall’s daughter, Beatrice, and Kate Bull’s sons, Henry and Felix, enlivened the Young Chorus.

The whole production looked and sounded superb with colourful costumes and a much-improved sound and lighting system controlled by Anthony Gofton and Ian Drainer.

Mandyrae Jessey put her heart and soul into this show and her enthusiasm, more infectious than Omicron, inspired the whole cast and crew to achieve a classic – a benchmark for future pantomimes.

Truly, this King rules the waves and also waives the rules!

John Drew

April – May 2022