Puss In Boots | Media
Bradley starred as ‘Jack the Miller’s Son’ in Puss in Boots at the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds in 2008-09. Directed by Colin Blumenau, this was a pantomime with plenty of excitement, hi-jinks and swash-buckling adventure.
In this fairytale pantomime, set long, long ago in merry old England at the time of Roundheads and Cavaliers, Bradley starred along BBC’s How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria finalist Helena Blackman and sang a completely new score composed by Annemarie Lewis Thomas.
A highlight was the comedy duet he performed with the crazy princess, played by Abi Newberry. True love conquered all, a magical cat with magical boots saved King and country and the hero's dreams came true, amidst the wonderful Regency surroundings of the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds.
Panto is everything you expect – and more
By JO THEWLIS, Bury Free Press reporter
THE cat's whiskers – this fantastic feline caper has something for everyone this festive season.
A boisterous cast brought a smile to everyone's faces as Puss in Boots – the traditional tale of Jack the Miller's son – set the scene for seasonal good cheer.
Jack, played superbly by Bradley Clarkson, won fans among children and adults alike as the lovable hero of the tale, who sets off to find fame, fortune and love with the help of his magical cat, Puss, played perfectly by Helena Blackman.
Pantomime favourite James Nickerson returned for his ninth Bury season, stealing the show as Nellie 'Where You Been?' Gwyn, with an elastic face and caustic wit, keeping the cast and audience on their toes.
Spectacular special effects, including a volcano which erupts from the centre of the stage, captured youngsters' imaginations, while the fearsome ogre Cromwell, played wickedly well by Mark Stratton, created delicious drama by transforming into a hideous bear and a terrifying green dragon.
Cromwell drew boos aplenty as the villain who stole the English throne from King Charles I, while his sinister sidekick Hench, played expertly by Dennis Herdman, also filled his role with relish.
The athletic cast were bursting with energy, while the cats captured children's imaginations as they prowled the auditorium before and during the production.
Abi Newberry was impressive as the exiled King Charles II's daughter Princess Caroline, who falls in love with the irrepressible Jack.
With all the traditional ingredients, such as a sing-a-long and plenty of chances for children to play their part, this festive production is thoroughly entertaining and funny, with everything you would expect from the Theatre Royal – and more.
Puss in Boots
by Hugh Homan, thestage.co.uk
Daniel O’Brien’s adaptation of the Perrault tale of the miller’s three sons who inherit the mill, the ass and the cat seems somewhat laboured in its transplanting to an English Cromwellian setting.
The cast have little to do after the early capture of the princess but to follow her around until Puss in Boots arranges her rescue. The first half of Colin Blumenau’s colourful and enjoyable production seems to take a while to get going, the second half is much better paced.
But there’s plenty of fun along the way. James Nickerson returns to Bury after a two-year gap to play Dame Nellie Gwyn, wearer of the usual exotic outfits and purveyor of the best worst jokes in panto. Nickerson works hard and he’s ably supported by a talented cast. Mark Stratton is a suitably thunderous Ogre (assisted by a very amusing and silly Dennis Herdman as Hench) and a nicely benign King Charles. Helena Blackman puts on the whiskers as Puss, dances felinely and sorts it all out effectively. Abi Newberry as an amusingly hesitant and slightly insecure Princess Caroline almost stole the show for me - a young actress to watch. Bradley Clarkson is an appropriately wholesome Jack.
Joke of the night came from a child in the audience who, when asked what magic word Jack should use, shouted out: ‘Please!’.
‘Puss in Boots – A Feline Pantomime’ Cath W. Nut, cathwnut.wordpress.com
It’s that time of year again! The nights draw in, the temperatures plummet , Christmas decorations go up, bank account balances go down and people start looking for a good ol’ panto to turn their woes and worries into laughter and happiness. Well, if you ask me, the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds is the ONLY place to go this Christmas to forget all about the credit crunch, family drama and the eternal struggle between man and woman over the remote control on Christmas Eve.
Veteran Panto Director, and Artistic Director of the Theatre, Colin Blumenau, brings us a lively, smart version of ‘Puss in Boots’, known for being “the panto everyone forgot”. Well you certainly won’t forget this panto for much longer! To say this production was ‘perfect’ would be to undersell it; it was ‘purrfect‘ (groan away!).
The show is set in the England of the mid-1600s; Charles the First has been executed, his son; Charles II, sent into exile with his amnesiac daughter; the beautiful Princess Caroline, and the throne has been usurped by a wicked ogre called Cromwell (subtle, eh?). Meanwhile Arthur the Miller (a cunning literary reference if there ever was one) has passed away, leaving his son Jack (Bradley Clarkson of ITV’s ‘Grease is the Word’) with nothing but the lazy mill cat; Puss (Helena Blackman of BBC1′s ‘How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?’), who just happens to talk and owns a pair of magical boots! Soon the duo encounter Dame Nellie Gwynne (old favourite James Nickerson, returning to Bury for his ninth panto, after a two year absence) as well as the exiled King and his daughter. The troupe band together and set off to right all wrongs, overthrow Cromwell and save the day!
It’s great panto stuff and Daniel O’Brien’s book is keenly written, keeping the action flowing whilst throwing out the gags, from great to groanworthy (in the finest panto sense, of course!), like nobody’s business.
Annemarie Lewis-Thomas returns for her second Bury panto and third production for the Theatre Royal (having previously written music and lyrics for last year’s ‘Cinderella and the Glass Slipper’ and the 2007 re-opening production ‘Black Ey’d Susan’) to write the score and lyrics. And she clearly had a great time doing it! The upbeat, but unmistakably British, music perfectly complements the traditional tone of the show; from a rousing ‘rally-to-arms’ number to a tongue-in-cheek royal cantata, all very entertaining. Though I couldn’t help noticing a few teething problems with the orchestra/actor sound levels, I’m sure this will be resolved during the run. Lewis-Thomas’ lyrics are great fun, whether they are pointing out the ironies of the rather upbeat phrase ‘giving up’ or telling us that, whilst ‘Puss in Boots’ is the title of the show: “other high street chemists are available!”
Another familiar face, in the shape of designer Will Hargreaves, returns to Bury panto this year after his own two year absence, and he’s still on top form! The sets are suitably bright and colourful, but manage to be rich and beautiful instead of garish and ugly like so many other panto sets. His costumes are equally wonderful, highlights being the innovative Cat catsuits and Nellie Gwynne’s ‘Domestic Boudica’ outfit.
The cast are particularly strong this year, with not a single weak link in the bunch. The rubber-faced James Nickerson is likely, I suspect, to get rapturous applause for every show. He holds the audience in the palm of his hand, improvising madly, whilst delivering his boisterous but loveable dame. His comic timing is superb and his rapport with the audience is so strong one is almost surprised that he doesn’t go back home with you for a cuppa after the show!
Bradley Clarkson, as the hero Jack, is immensely likeable and also has a great rapport with the audience. This particular evening he played off a heckle from the obligatory obnoxious brat, present at every panto, fantastically, making sure the audience stayed on his side. Occasionally he did seem to have difficulty playing off some of Nickerson’s improvisations, but then it is a formidable task for any actor to keep up with such unexpected comedy.
Helena Blackman, the second TV personality in the show, being the runner up in BBC1′s ‘How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?’ (I voted for her!), stars as the titular feline. Blackman is very impressive as the cat with cat attitude (cattitude? Oh never mind); her Puss (one extra letter and this sentence turns into a PC nightmare) is loveable and ballsy and the real driving force of the plot.
Blackman is a highly skilled singer and dancer and, whilst the few songs she has don’t really show off her assets as much as you might expect, she is still a powerhouse in this show; singing, dancing and acting simultaneously with great confidence. Blackman also has a very good rapport with children, so it’s no surprise that Puss is the character leading the Songsheet at the end, it is a hard task to make young children feel comfortable on a stage in front of 300-odd people, but Blackman accomplishes it with ease and both children who participated in the Songsheet looked very happy onstage.
Abi Newberry has a very memorable turn as Princess Caroline, daughter of Charles II and Jack’s love interest. Whilst most panto princesses tend to be rather bland, Newberry’s princess is a hoot! A character laden with gags including a burgeoning sexual frustration and a fantastically funny love song with Jack. One of my favourite running gags was Caroline’s seemingly selective amnesia when she would forget simple words at the ends of sentences, much to the frustration of the other characters. Newberry’s characterisation is adorable and funny, pitching her high above any other bland, ‘damsel in distress’ princess.
Batting for the force of evil we have Mark Stratton as the Wicked Ogre Cromwell, and Dennis Herdman as his man Hench. Stratton and Herdman are also veterans of Bury panto and both deliver the goods (or should that be “the bads”?). As Cromwell, Stratton manages to be suitably scary, but bumbling and stupid enough to get plenty of laughs; he revels in the audience’s boos and hisses. As Hench, a pseudo-Baldrick character, Herdnan delivers a highly entertaining performance with plenty of slapstick and physical jokes that both kids and adults can appreciate. The chemistry between Stratton and Herdman is fantastic; the two play off each other superbly much to the delight of the audience (this evening, for example, Cromwell knocked Hench’s wig off after hitting him with a club and so Cromwell announces: “Keep your hair on Hench!”. The audience loved it). A great evil duo, they got a great deal of the applause at the end. Stratton also plays the role of Charles II, his characterisation is in complete contrast to Cromwell and, were it not for my programme and the intimacy of the theatre, I would never have guessed it were him. As Charles II, whilst not quite the hedonistic pervert that the real monarch was (for better or for worse depending on whether you’ve brought children to see the show or not!), Stratton is a great foil for Nell Gwynne’s amorous advances.
Supporting the principals we have two dance captains and a juvenile chorus. The dance captains; Eddie Elliot and Kerry George show off their dance skills by adding to Puss’ army of cats (as Mac and Cavity respectively), and boy can they dance! When not appearing in chorus numbers they swing between a number of different supporting roles, all of which are memorable (I particularly enjoyed Elliot’s turn as a Forest Dweller, from London’s East End no less!).
In addition to this there is a rotating juvenile chorus of two. This evening I saw Josie May Harrington and Katie Thomas who played Rumple and Teaser, respectively, Puss’ catty comrades. Before the show started, and during the interval, the pair flitted about the audience, interacting with the children, as cats, and I found it almost impossible to believe that these two were, in fact, two local schoolgirls! Both Harrington and Thomas were convincingly cat-like (their physicality as cats was absolutely tremendous and very believable and accurate), very acrobatic and they could sing and dance to boot (no pun intended)! If the other chorus are even half as good as Harrington and Thomas then they are lucky!
In a time of economic crisis, war in the Middle East and a universal cynicism which seems to make all these things seem twice as worse as they actually are, we all could do with some cheering up, and this is what to see to get cheered up! There is not a single flaw in this little gem of uplifting escapism; the actors and the production values have a wonderful complicity which creates a simply fantastic show, full of great songs, special effects, comedy, action and romance. What more could you ask for? So forget the bland, garish pantos of Ipswich, Cambridge and Norwich, with their washed-up soap actor leads and hackish reworkings of S Club 7 songs, for a real, traditional family panto, with a huge heart, come to Bury St Edmunds. I promise you’ll leave with a smile on your face and a song in your heart. Oh and also, you’ll get to learn the ‘Paw Jive Cat Flap’ which I can guarantee will be THE cool dance everyone will be doing down at the discotheque!
"This fantastic feline caper has something for everyone"
JO THEWLIS, Bury Free Press reporter
"Plenty of fun..Talented Cast"
Hugh Homan, thestage.co.uk
"To say this production was ‘perfect’ would be to undersell it; it was ‘purrfect‘"
Cath W. Nut, cathwnut.wordpress.com