- Miles Hedley
THE QUEEN OF HEARTS at Greenwich Theatre
Updated: Nov 28, 2021
A real test of how good a panto is to try it out at 10 o’clock on a freezing November morning more than a month before Christmas in front of a crowd of noisy youngsters. I reckon many would crash and burn. But no so Andrew Pollard’s Queen Of Hearts at Greenwich Theatre – he and his cast have produced a bona fide festive miracle that left the audience spellbound and may well prove to be his best yet.
The triumph was assured within minutes of the curtain going up thanks to a gloriously silly routine with a step-ladder by Gibsa Bah as the Knave of Hearts, a fabulous bespoke joke by legendary dame Pollard about the janitor of the school that made up that day’s audience, a water-pistol attack on the front row of the stalls and supervillain Anthony Spargo’s opening line – I hate children – which sparked such an ear-shattering explosion of boos and hisses that I actually thought the kids might storm the stage.
How do you maintain the comedy levels after such a riotous opening? But layering on even more, of course. And over the next two hours, we were treated to a wealth of topical gags about Brexit shortages, ill-judged royal TV interviews, Bake-Off soggy bottoms and newly-single Michael Gove, a relentless diet of terrific but never-obvious jokes, puns and double entendres, some amazing impressions by Spargo, a hefty dollop of romance (one involving an owl and a vulture) and music ranging from Tchaikovsky to the current Eurovision winner.
Without wishing to give anything away, I particularly loved Pollard’s take on Mambo No5. And his second-act harmonica solo is worth the ticket price alone.
Pollard is, as ever, magnificent as a dame, this time parading around Cleo Pettitt’s wonderful set as the eponymous heroine in a series of stunningly daft costumes. Look out especially for the jammy dodger gown and the hideously “revealing” disco diva two-piece.
And I simply can’t praise Spargo highly enough. He plays the wicked King of Clubs as a sort of Teutonic Mick Jagger and was absolutely fearless as he cackled with malevolent glee while facing down a baying audience.
Bah has a real talent for slapstick as the lovelorn Knave of Hearts, Myla Carmen is a delight as the Princess of Diamonds and principal boy Emma Jay Thomas makes a charming Prince of Spades. All of them are terrific singers and dancers, too, which gives the production a real sense of infinite variety.
And let’s not forget the brilliant live band – a Greenwich Theatre panto without keyboardist and MC Steve Markwick, drummer Chris Wyles and guitarist Gordon Parish is simply unthinkable.
Lockdown scuppered last year’s panto but Pollard obviously used the time well because his version of The Queen Of Hearts is nothing less than a masterpiece. I beg you to see it!