A show that isn't taking itself too seriously, and that is exactly what a good panto needsHelena Fox

When three performers in red sumo suits waddle on stage to introduce the CUADC/Footlights Pantomime 2018, you wonder what you’ve let yourself in for; when they explain that they are, in fact, Maltesers, you understand. The Gingerbread Man is a show that isn’t taking itself too seriously, and that is exactly what a good panto needs. In fact, the show has all the key features of a pantomime, even if they’re squeezed in or literally ticked off a checklist (in one metatheatrical moment of many). There are lots of sweet-based puns, lots of nods to popular cultural moments – the Cadbury’s gorilla drummer is neatly incorporated into the plot – and to musical numbers you might recognise. In places, not least the opening, The Gingerbread Man is utterly bizarre, but in others it is heartfelt, in others, surprisingly politically astute.

"Who knew a crowd could be so wholly won over to the idea of Scottish Independence within a pantomime? "

The writing by Comrie Saville-Ferguson and Dan Allum-Gruselle is hilarious and well-pitched, aware of its student audience while appealing to all. The opening set is bright and exciting, capturing the fantasy of Quality Street – a place where nothing could possibly ever go wrong – and later stage settings are equally spectacular. The show makes good use of multimedia, with videography framing the story and lighting effectively representing scene changes, musical numbers, and tonal shifts. The sound effects were playful and perfectly timed, and the band was absolutely amazing, but often the performers’ microphones needed to be louder, because I lost some lyrics through not being able to make them out clearly. This was especially true with faster verses, like Blue Smartie’s rap.

Blue Smartie (Lotte Hondebrink) was otherwise wonderfully vacant and innocent, in contrast to the other ‘Baked Goodies’: the badass Banana (Grace Glevey), the extravagant After Eight (Matthew Sargent), the underappreciated and insecure Bounty (Harriet Fisher, whose solo song is great), and the politically engaged Irn Bru (Louis Elton). Who knew a crowd could be so wholly won over to the idea of Scottish Independence within a pantomime? Somehow, Saville-Ferguson and Allum-Gruselle did, and hit the nail on the head with this caricatured but lovable Scottish character, played with suitable gusto by Elton.

The quality of song and dance (and music) throughout were fantasticHelena Fox

The Baked Goodies are the crew with whom the hero, Gingerbread Man, finds his place. Gingy, played perfectly by Milo Callahan, is a lovable character who spends most of the show trying to work out what to do and who to be. There are some lovely interactions in which he learns valuable lessons for us all and, of course, there a wholesome love plot. Gingy falls in love with Banana; the characters are surprisingly compatible, and there is believable chemistry between Callahan and Glevey, who plays Banana. Glevey is sincere and sweet, and I was especially pleased to discover that Banana can, in fact, split.

"if any character stole the show, however, it was Tom Nunan’s Tooth Fairy Godmother"

Mrs Badbury is the villain of the piece, and Amaya Holman is deliciously dastardly in this role, with a fabulous evil laugh and great vocals to boot, while Jamie Bisping’s Milky Bar Kid is a suitably simpering sidekick, who we pity more than we fear. He also delivers the strangest funny moment in the show, the grotesquely compelling spectacle of watching him devour a block of butter. The relationship between the two is particularly fun, and they bounce off each other well.

If any character stole the show, however, it was Tom Nunan’s Tooth Fairy Godmother. The Latin-inspired song and dance number in the middle of the first half is frankly iconic, and the obligatory audience interaction (this is a pantomime, after all) is perfectly pitched. Nunan delivers tooth-based pun after tooth-based pun with a relish that is somewhat unsettling, but completely perfect, and the outfits are increasingly fabulous. Actually, costumes (by Ruby Clare and crew) are fabulous across the board.


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The Gingerbread Man preview

The leads are also vocally strong, and there is a beautiful number in the second half which sees the four (Callahan, Glevey, Nunan, and Holman) come into their own, hitting a lovely final note. In fact, the quality of song and dance (and music) throughout were fantastic. The entire cast threw everything into the performances, and any minor slips were immediately forgotten and forgiven for the soaring choruses and great choreography (by Griffin Twemlow and Lucy Thompson).

The Gingerbread Man is a little rough around the edges in places, but this is negligible when you realise what this group of students have achieved. The show is three hours (yes, three) of non-stop fun, with very few flat jokes or sharp notes, and the dedication of cast and crew is apparent. They may joke that no degree work has been done this term but, for the audience at least, it was worth it.

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