Image Credit: Many thanks to The Chameleons for kind permission to use their pictures here. Photos of the programme taken by me, Allison Symes.
It was a pleasure to be back at Ritchie Hall in Hursley Road to watch The Chameleon Theatre Group perform their postponed pantomime, The Dragon of Wantley. This was originally due to be staged in January.
Janet and I had a wonderful evening which was full of laughs. Comedy can be a real tonic at times (as can farcical comedy which pantomime excels at) and I must admit I walked home, feeling cheered and uplifted for watching a fabulous show. After the last couple of years, a good laugh was exactly what was needed.
I didn’t know the story behind The Dragon of Wantley but it is a great one and loosely based on a true story. According to the Chameleons’ programme, a lawsuit was taken out against the Lord of the Manor of Sheffield, George Talbot, the sixth Earl of Shrewsbury. The lord (the dragon in this story) was accused of misappropriating funds meant for the civic good and local church upkeep and also of annexing common land. The lawyer in this case was George More and he acted on behalf of the people of Sheffield.
This wasn’t a story known to me, as I say, but I had heard of the sixth Earl of Shrewsbury. He was one of Mary, Queen of Scot’s jailers when she was imprisoned in England. See the link for more. There is an interesting snippet here where there is talk of property disputes between him and his second wife, Bess of Hardwick. So this story could well be based on truth. The character fits!
The Plot of the Pantomime
The plot of the panto is that a fairy, Mauxalinda, has lived beneath the village of Wantley for centuries in peace with mankind and nature only to be rudely disturbed by development on the country estate of Moore Hall.
Moore Hall has been lived in by Squire Benjamin’s family for centuries (hello to the principal boy here) but the local mayor of Wantley (hello to the villain here) has managed to steal the title deeds to the hall and has sold off the land for development. It is this planned development that has enraged Mauxalinda who curses the village by raising up a dragon against it. The idea is to destroy all the humans living here so she can go back to living in peace and so the trees and wildlife are spared.
Meanwhile Squire Benjamin has got problems of “his” own. He owes the Council a huge amount in tax and the mayor is foreclosing on Moore Hall. The mayor, whose costume reminded me of the be-hatted gentleman on the Monopoly board, yes he had the cane too (!), also plans to marry his ward, the Lady Joanna, who happens to be Squire Benjamin’s lady love and is due to inherit a fortune on her 21st birthday. (You can guess at this point how likely it is that, should the mayor’s plans come about, Lady Joanna would live much beyond said 21st birthday).
Worse still, the mayor has managed to get the title deeds to Moore Hall which is why he has been able to sell off land for development and Squire Benjamin has not been able to prevent it. With the foreclosure imminent, all of Squire Benjamin’s staff face unemployment and homelessness.
A kindly witch, Mother Shipton, comes to the village of Wantley but plays a major role in defeating the magic of Mauxalinda and also brings about the news that the local Council have turned down the development ideas, which makes the fairy back down. Mother Shipton also encourages Squire Benjamin to find his courage to defeat the dragon, which he does. It can only be defeated by courage and willingness to fight. And naturally Squire Benjamin’s staff do what they can to get the title deeds back to their boss.
The Council also issue a huge reward for anyone who kills the dragon. The amount would be more than enough to cover Squire Benjamin’s debts to them. You can sense the happy ending coming now I’m sure! Mind you, for me that is one of the joys of panto. It has to be a feel good story. It has to end well.
Classic Pantomime Ingredients
Firstly, lots of laughter. Definite tick in the box there. Janet and I were laughing all evening. There were classic sight gags (especially at the wonderful Dame played by Dave Wilkins, who is Granny Gubbins in the story and the housekeeper at Moore Hall). Let’s just say Janet and I are unlikely to forget the sight of “her” as she performed the Queen classic, I Want to Break Free, using a feather duster as a microphone!
There were dreadful puns. Everyone loves a good groan at those.
There was physical comedy especially from Rags and Tatters, the mayor’s incompetent henchmen.
There were the adlibs.
There were the local gags such as references to the King Rufus. Bishopstoke got a mention too.
And one thing that is forgotten about panto at times is it can be a great vehicle for satire. Oh yes it can! There were several digs at politicians (Boris in particular), all of which went down well.
You have to have the Dame, the principal boy, the incompetent who provide a lot of the comedy, the pantomime horse, a villain (and I loved the snarky way Sir Walter de Warthog, the mayor, played by Matthew Meehan, greeted the audience every time we booed him), magic, and fun.
The Dragon of Wantley and the Chameleons delivered on all of that. It was a wonderful story, excellently performed. Fabulous fun – exactly what a panto should be.
The choice of musical numbers for the show was interesting too. There was I Want to Break Free, Here Comes the Sun, and Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, amongst others. That proved a nostalgia fest for me and I’m sure for many in the audience too. The chorus were excellent. I know I wasn’t the only one singing along. And it was lovely to sing Puff the Magic Dragon again towards the end of the show. Have not heard that in years, yet alone sung it.
Don’t miss a chance to get to a panto with the Chameleons. Okay, you will have to wait until next year for that but if you can, go! You will have a fabulous night out full of fun and laughter. (Looking up a related post for this one, I thought I’d go for the last panto I saw – it was Atlantis the Panto which the Chameleons staged in 2020. If there is anything I’ve learned over the course of the pandemic, it’s that if I get a chance to go to a show etc., I will do my level best to take it. I certainly don’t want to wait another two year gap before the next Chameleons panto).
Good News – The Next Chameleon Production –
Hoovering The Edge – 28th to 30th July 2022
Fancy a laugh with the Chameleons before that? Oh good.
Well, their next show is going to be Hoovering The Edge written by Hilary Spiers. Love that title. The Chameleons are staging this from 28th to 30th July 2022 and the blurb describes the play as a character and twist-driven comedy full of surprises and poignancy. Sounds fabulous and exactly the sort of thing I love to see.
Maybe see you there!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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