‘OAPs Assemble’, an original script by the imaginative and talented Victoria Hedges and Sophie Howard, was written specifically for the Emergency Services Panto Group.
Never having attended an ESPG production before, despite it being in its 17th year, I went to The Maltings with an open mind and, dare I say, low expectations.
At first glance the stage set seemed somewhat bare and basic, consisting of a couple of back boards, two tables and numerous chairs as well as a large centrally-appointed TV screen.
However as the play began this proved to work in the productions favour, as audience attention was intent upon the actors and story rather than being distracted by any extraneous and non-essential fripperies.
The simple set doubled as both the residential care home of the plays heroes as well as the villains’ lair, being easily reset for each act by the limited stage crew of Sophie Howard, Lynda Hall and Tarn Chapman.
Use of the large TV screen as a connection between the villain and his henchmen was a touch of genius by the stage directors, Victoria Hedges and Sophie Howard, adding a nice device to the play whereby it is only at the end that the villain’s true identity is revealed.
The play opens on the residential care home with the OAPs sitting, chatting and playing bingo. The imminent arrival of a meteor, set to destroy the town of Berwick, spurs the retired Superheroes into coming out of retirement for one last life saving adventure against their arch nemesis, Dr Von Cowangate (Played by Marcie Allinson, voiced by Estelle Dodd) and her underlings.
Thereafter, what ensues is pure hilarity mixed with the ridiculous.
Although appearing a little nervous to begin with, the amateur players soon settled down into their characters, giving a very enjoyable production, filled with a lot of much appreciated Berwick-based humour as well as music and dance numbers that had the audience joining in with singing, clapping and arm waving.
As is usual with amateur productions there was the very occasional unintended fluffed line which only added to the audiences amusement and enjoyment.
Costumes were bright, imaginative and fun, having been created by the individual actors. Having seen this play who will ever forget Tena Lady (Jacqui Hedges) with her ducky cape and adult nappy, John Fonda (Jim Herbert) in green lycra and long black curly wig or the 3 Gulls (Martin Warner, Frank Barker and Susan Dixon) with their large yellow beaks and fluorescent coloured feet?
All of the cast have to be commended for their performances, but standouts include Ben Foreman as General Dogsbody with his incredible singing voice, Martin Warner, Frank Barker and Susan Dixon as the three gull henchmen for their comedic timing and Jim Herbert as John Fonda for his enthusiastic character portrayal.
Having thoroughly enjoyed this production, which far exceeded my expectations, I will now be looking forward to attending next year’s show, and would encourage those who missed out this time to do the same.
Not only do you see a fine humorous play but all revenue raised from ticket sales is donated to the North Northumberland Hospice.
A win win situation from any point of view.