REVIEW: The Pantaloons' History of Britain at Arley Hall

King Henry VIII marries, again, with the help of a Pantaloons' comedy vicar. Alex Rivers, Kerry Griffiths and Christopher Smart perform.

The audience enjoys a picnic performance in beautiful surroundings.

First published in News

A GLORIOUS summer evening greeted the welcome return of an original and energetic theatre company to Arley Hall.

The Pantaloons performed The History of Britain in the beautiful outdoor setting of Arley’s walled gardens on Thursday, July 17.

A cast of just four ‘Loons took their audience on a whistle-stop tour of more than two millennia of British history in just two hours.

Scenes from ancient Britain to present day UK were brought to life on stage but, with this being The Pantaloons, they were as you have never seen them before.

The company’s inimitable and laugh-out-loud funny style saw the story of King Henry VIII and his six wives performed as a romantic comedy, the Spanish Armarda as a Gilbert and Sullivan pastiche and the Victorian era in the style of music hall, compared by Queen Victoria herself, and that’s just a brief example.

The pace was fast and ‘Loons bounded around the stage with seemingly endless verve and utterly infectious joy.

They wore simple costumes of coloured tops and black trousers, which they transformed with simple additions of a wig here or a false beard there, not to mention a host of crowns, hats, swords, cloaks and other miscellaneous props from the ages.

Edward Ferrow was the Blue ‘Loon, Kelly Griffiths the Red ‘Loon, Alex Rivers the Purple ‘Loon and Christopher Smart the Green ‘Loon.

Each member of the quartet shone as they tackled a mind-boggling array of performance styles with aplomb.

This included a range of songs and music, poetry and even puppetry.

But the show was not all hilarity and high jinks.

I wondered how they would tackle the onset of the First World War during its centenary year but the pace changed seamlessly as the ‘Loons performed contrasting poems by Jessie Pope, encouraging men to go to war, and Wilfred Owen’s response, Dulce et Decorum Est, written of the horrors of war in 1917.

They took this seriously and created a thought provoking piece of theatre before returning to a gently light-hearted style.

But what always stands out with a Pantaloons performance is the relationship of the actors to the audience.

There’s a healthy dose of audience participation – including a war of childish insults between an audience split into cavaliers and roundheads – and a warmth of audience collusion.

The actors give you a glimpse into how their work is put together with many a nod and a wink to their craft, which makes its structure obvious but still somehow allows you to suspend disbelief and immerse yourself into the show.

You’re treated as one of the gang in a Pantaloons performance, which gives it an enduring appeal.

I can’t wait until they return.

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