This pantomime combines The Lion King with medicine The Prion King Company

With a cast and crew in the triple digits, and a run-time to match, the 26th Annual Addenbrooke’s Charity Pantomime, The Prion King—and its Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine student writers, producers, and performers—delivers plenty of colourful laughs, even for those whose only experience with medicine is an occasional visit to their GP. The players’ energy and good humour, coupled with snappy tunes ranging the musical gamut, carry the lighthearted show for much of its three-hour length, but can’t save some scenes—burdened with slow transitions and (is it possible?) too many jokes—from occasionally dragging. Still, The Prion King is a testament to the creativity and passion of the School of Clinical Medicine community who—despite their apparently miserable med student existence—have managed to lovingly craft a parody pantomime that just might make your next doctor’s visit a bit funnier.

The Prion King loosely follows the plot of its namesake Disney film, filled with characters you’ll remember from your childhood. Sole protector of her cure for the deadly prion disease, Dean Liona Wood (Claire Hemingway) rules over the Savannahbrooke’s Hospital and the medical students who work there. Among the incoming class of fourth years is her famous son, Simbastatin (Hayley Johnson), who becomes the unwitting stooge in the plot of his evil uncle, Scarcoma (Will Flinn), who’s set on revenge for being banished to work in the morgue as a forensic pathologist. The rest of the story runs as you’d expect, with plenty of clinical sketches thrown in for good measure—lubrication required, of course.

Plot is not really the point, which explains how Scar(coma)’s evil henchmen might include Vladimir Putin (Pramod Manjunath), Nicola Sturgeon (Max Stewart), a remarkably convincing Theresa May (Anna Murray), and a certain orange-faced “politician” from across the pond (Jack Bradbury). It is this outpouring of silliness that gives The Prion King its greatest strength, a quality embraced particularly by Flinn’s Scar as he enacts his evil plan to usurp control of Savannahbrooke’s.

No one takes up the mantle of over-the-top humor as much as Aurelien Gueroult’s Dr. Raf-kinase, the bawdy and voluptuous clinical supervisor.  Gueroult’s scene-stealing drag performance extends even to the show’s intermission, when he enters the audience in character to sell charity raffle tickets and then reunites with David Attenborough (Alex Harris) on stage to call out the winning numbers.

Written by medical students largely for an audience of their peers, The Prion King runs the risk of becoming esoteric, with in-jokes on medical terminology and the intricacies of the administration of the School of Clinical Medicine crowding out more general gags aimed for the uninitiated. This is a problem in some of the songs, whose lyrics are sometimes hard to hear over the orchestra, before taking into account the inclusion of unfamiliar acronyms or terminology. Thoughtfully, the show’s producers provide a glossary in the program, allowing a quick education for those of us who don’t study medicine or obsessively watch House.

Jokes about veterinary students and Anglia Ruskin—in whose theatre the show is performed—can veer into touchy territory after they are repeated too often. Some of the punchlines poking fun at the School of Clinical Medicine land with more knowing groans than laughs as the students use this opportunity on stage to air actual grievances with their program of study.

At its heart, though, The Prion King is a celebration of the combined talents of the many medical students who produced the show. The feel-good heart of the production occurs before the final showdown between the principal characters when various performers—who do not have roles in the rest of the show—sing about the joys of medicine in an ultra high rent version of a karaoke medley of pop songs, with accompanying back up dancing—and even some cameos from med school professors thrown in.

Watching these first-time performers can’t help but to bring a smile to your face; their bravery and joy in performing with friends embodies the care that went into the whole production. From carefully constructed scenery (look for the jokes!), to the skilfully orchestrated and well-played music, to the funny costumes and beautiful face paint that transform the cast into animals of every sort, it is clear to see that everyone involved eagerly donated their (limited) time to putting on a show whose proceeds benefit the Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust and Médecins Sans Frontières.

Lack of professional polish can easily be forgiven in the name of good causes, an inclusive production giving even the shyest med student a taste of theatre, and, of course, slapstick medical gags involving the placement of tubes/fingers in various bodily orifices. The Prion King offers the perfect chance to brush up medical terminology you learned on WebMD, and the rare opportunity to laugh through a defibrillation.

The Prion King is on at the Mumford Theatre at 7.30pm, 23-27th January

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