Tango’s, Panto’s and Pussies!

Last Tango in Little Grimley and Last Panto in Little Grimley – Review

Toffee Hammer Studio

The Cathedral Hotel, Thursday 21 November 2019

By Jono Oates

I go to a number of performances by local amateur groups and this was a play that hilariously showed the problems that many of them face – how to keep the punters coming through the doors – and the lengths they will go to, to do just that!

This was a double-bill of single act plays from writer David Tristram, combining the Last Tango in Little Grimley with the Last Panto in Little Grimley. Both plays sequenced in to the other though so it was easy to follow the plot and story lines and the two plays merged seamlessly from one to the other, interlinked by the interval.

The play was put on by Toffee Hammer Studio productions at the Cathedral Hotel on Beacon Street and raised funds for The Brain Tumour Charity. Director Maureen George’s daughter suffered, and survived, a brain tumour in the past so the charity is very close to the family’s heart.

The plays centre around the fortunes, or rather misfortunes, of a small amateur dramatic society in Little Grimley, and their attempts to save their group from going under. They have struggled so much that they have now been reduced to only four members, three actors and their stage manager and are in imminent danger of being evicted from their theatre home. Their beleaguered chairman then comes up with a lightbulb moment of an idea that will instantly transform their fortunes – SEX!! He proposes putting on a raunchy adult production, the Last Tango, that will tantalise and intrigue the local theatre community. The idea, he believes, is bound to put bums on seats – but has he sold the soul of the society to the devil? After the interval the sequel of the Last Tango becomes the Last Panto in Little Grimley. Playing the same set of cards twice the chairman writes his own festive pantomime and, once again, with a saucy and sexy twist on a traditional panto name. Will his self-penned production of Dick Whittington raise the rafters of the local village hall…or will it come crashing down on the group’s heads and crush their seasonal resurgence?

The play is littered with comic asides, one liners and comic pratfalls throughout and the audience are kept very amused throughout with lots of chuckles and laugh out loud moments to enjoy. The opening scene, as the group take part in their committee meeting, is very funny as the constitution of the group is challenged. This will ring a comic bell with any group or organisation that have agenda-led meetings and will resonate with many. The four characters – the pompous, autocratic chairman, the challenging and forthright leading lady, the timid ‘I just want to sing..sing…’ actress and the grumpy and world-weary theatre manager are all perfect comedy foils for each other. There are also lots of comic madcap mishaps involving props and fancy-dress costumes so there is plenty of action to enjoy as well as the verbal word play.

The cast is a four-hander with all four members on stage throughout so the chemistry, and comic timing, between the actors is key to the success of the production. Andy Jones was as superb as always, playing the frustrated society chairman (well…chairperson…) at every turn as he tries to steer his sinking ship of a group in to calmer waters. He plays exasperation really well and his face turned to the heavens in sheer desperation at yet another setback befalls him is always a joy to behold. Carol Talbot played snooty Margaret very well, duelling with Gordon at team meetings and on and off, stage and enjoyed plenty of comic moments standing, and falling, on one leg or the other. She was also the subject of a funny running gag about her displaying her best ‘assets’ to the audiences and her mixed reaction of feigned horror and womanly pride about her assets being talked about, and openly viewed, was very well played.
Maurice Allden played the bumbling, bungling, multiple banana-eating stage manager Bernard. Equally incompetent at acting and behind the scenes, as he tried desperately to keep out of the spotlight on stage while furiously trying to keep the flickering, spluttering spotlights on the three performing actors on stage.
The quartet was made up by Zoe Matthews as the nice-but-dim Joyce. She was superb throughout as the scatty and loveable Joyce, and lit up every scene. She was great fun as the cat in the panto and was fantastic as she just wanted to ‘sing…sing..sing…’ at every given opportunity, receiving the biggest laugh of the evening as she mangled her show-stopping number with a voice that could shatter glass!

The stage at the Cathedral Hotel did not lend itself easily to amateur dramatics but the cast and backstage teams made the most of the limited space. There was some very clever use of props and lighting, and the sequence of the spotlights flickering and failing as the cast scurried across the stage was very effective. Lighting provided by Steve Baker, stage management by Tony Coxon and the producer is Kathy Bryers.

Inspiration for the production came from director Maureen George who, once again, drew great performances from her experienced cast.

During the first half interval a collection was made for The Brain Tumour Charity and a prize draw raffle was held.

Last Tango, and Last Panto, in Little Grimley is a lovely, funny, clever and witty double set of plays, providing plenty of laughs, a cast who clearly have a lot of fun on stage, and is a perfect antidote to a grey and drizzly late November evening! In addition, the production raises awareness, and funds, for the one of the lesser-known, but very worthy charities, The Brain Tumour Charity. It is definitely worth going to see and will guarantee to put a smile on your face – especially if you are a member of a local amateur dramatics’ society!

Last Tango in Little Grimley and Last Panto in Little Grimley is on at:

The Cathedral Hotel, Beacon Street, Lichfield until Saturday 23 November 2019 then at:

Thomas Spencer Hall at Whittington from 20-21 December 2019 then at:

Fradley Village Hall from 27-28 December 2019.

Tickets, priced at £14.61, are available from Eventbrite.

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