Cast make late bid to be leaders of the panto pack

Walking like Egyptians to Bananarama'Emergency Services Panto, Trio of Cleos
Walking like Egyptians to Bananarama'Emergency Services Panto, Trio of Cleos


STICKING with tradition, it was the job of the hard working men and women of our local emergency services to bring the curtain down on another season of pantomime in Berwick and Berwickshire.

Year after year doctors, paramedics, nurse, firemen and other dedicated souls join together for what has come to be known as a few hours of organised chaos of the highest order.

But whether it was the stiff competition from other panto groups or the fact ‘A Trio of Cleos’ hit the stage in the midst of award season, with the BAFTAs, Brits and Oscars just around the corner, things seemed to step up a notch this time around. Yes there were the stumbles over lines (rectified by an ever efficient prompt) but everything else was top notch.

Instead of relying on theatrical standards, the emergency services took the music by the scruff of its neck and the second half particularly would have pleased the palette of any pop fan (this one included) with Alexandra Burke’s ‘Broken Heels’, Girls Aloud’s ‘Something New’ and The Bangles ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ all thrown into the mix.

And if Berwick hosted its own pantomime Oscars the category of most enthusiastic would be filled with nominees from this production.

A front runner would be ESP stalwart Estelle Dodd who was first on stage as Julia, the leader of the BFFF or to give them their proper name – the Berwick Female Freedom Fighters.

Ruling over a rowdy bunch that also included Chris Mutch, Stella McLaren, Laura Hook, Barbara McEnaney, Margie Nichol and the panto’s co-writer and producer Julie Dudgeon, Estelle was in fine form.

She was eccentric and energetic and the same could be said for her fellow Freedom Fighters and Jacqui Hedges in the role of her mother, laundry owner Ma Mary.

Like Estelle, Jacqui has been in more than her fair share of Emergency Services pantomimes and it’s the audience’s gain that she keeps coming back to do her bit for the cause.

The BFFFs weren’t exactly short on enemies and their rivals were a band of hairy Scots led by Big Mac (Ben Foreman).

Ben was last seen playing a well spoken pilot in Duns Players’ ‘Flare Path’ but gone was the plummy accent in it’s place a proud Scotch twang and a ‘see you Jimmy’ hat.

His clan included his daughter Heather, a role taken on by Nicola Foggon, previously seen in many a Spittal Variety Group panto. Nicola’s panto experience shone through, particularly in solo number ‘In Love With A Wonderful Boy’ and the group routine to the afore mentioned ‘Broken Heels’.

Completing the line-up were Martin Warner, Rense Bell and the panto’s other co-writer and producer Frank Barker. For the majority of the show Frank could be seen in a kilt but we also got to see a more glamorous side to him, when he transformed into one of three Cleos and treated us all to a re-worked rendition of West Side Story’s ‘I Feel Pretty’.

The original Cleo was played with suitable sass by Susan Wagstaff who together with Malcolm Mace as Mark Antony, provided the panto’s most memorable musical moment. ‘A Song That Goes Like This’ poked fun at powerballad cliches such as the emotional middle 8 and obligatory key change and the duo got in touch with their comedic sides to really give it some welly.

Another pairing who brought plenty of oomph to their performance were Carol Robson and Hannah Park as laundry servants Pom and Ade.

Nowfor Carol, who was last seen nearly revealing all in Duns Players ‘Calendar Girls’, Prom was a completely different role to take on but it was one she took on with gusto. She and Hannah make Prom and Ade ‘Life of Brian’ esque characters who revelled in musical numbers ‘Whistle A Happy Tune’ and ‘Busy Doing Nothing’.

Although her character Jules Ceasar was outshone by his sister Julia in the hero stakes, Anthea Drysdale made the role her own. Looking well at home in a tunic, like the rest of the cast she looked like she was thoroughly enjoying her time on stage.

The same could be set for Eddie Barrowman, Alex Robertson, Mike Ross and Jim Herbert as Mark Antony’s guards Linguni, Vermicelli, Rigatoni and Tagliatelle who were particularly entertaining in ‘Lipstick on Your Tunic’.

The thing that struck me the most about this particular emergency services panto was the way the audience took the cast to their hearts. When there was a slip up they didn’t groan or heckle they laughed along and they needed no encouragement to join in with songs such as ‘Leader of the Pack’ and ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’.

The main thing is that like in years gone by the performances raised money for a very worthy cause and the cast looked like they were having a ball in the process.