Old Mother Hubbard

‘Old Mother Hubbard’ is a richly scripted pantomime from the Tony Nichols’ stable. English born Tony was for years, a highly respected lecturer in ‘Theatre’ at Curtin University, having trained many of the well-known names of the theatre and screen.

Presented by the Stirling Players, this traditional style, English panto can be seen at the Stirling Theatre, Morris Place, Innaloo nightly at 8.00 pm until Saturday 14th December.

The curtains open to reveal an impressive rear wall of flats, with a further flat in each wing, all of brightly painted, well-known nursery rhymes’ scenes.

        Through the thronging crowds, pushes an old crone, Queen Mavis (Christine Ellis) who had just retired and is about to announce the result of her successor. She waits until Jack (Caitlin Gee) and Jill (Sophie Prober) have finished falling down the hill, and Bo Peep (Alysha Seymour) has searched for her sheep. In the background there is the ugly, hooked-nosed witch, Hepzibah (Karina Grasshoff) accompanied by her loyal and intelligent cat, Astrophe (Shannon Berry). The other contestant is the beautiful, Little Witch Barbie (Amy Dear). When Barbie wins the election, she gets advice from the trendy little devil, ‘Old One’ (Prea Cunningham). Hepzibah is furious and puts a curse on the village.

       Old Mother Hubbard (Brendan Ellis) is searching for her starving dog, Woolly (Lila Raubenheimer), when her daughter, Polly (Sally Ostrowski) arrives. Old Mother Hubbard announces that because they are so poor, she has arranged for Polly to marry the extremely wealthy, but greedy, ancient Duke Ferdinand (Peter Boylen). The Duke arrives with his incompetent servants, Ruff (Josh Lang) and Scruff (Steve Anderson) to collect Polly. However, Polly is in love with a stunning, young Dick (Kylie Webb), but the saucy HP (Natalie Baggen) and Cloaca (Nicola Chapman) out to get her – Polly is very much at risk.

      Can Polly escape the grip of the dreaded Duke?

The villagers and Mooklings were played by Melinda Dear (MC), Melissa Skeffington (Lorien) and Jane Tiller (Sukie).

Director Matthew Randall and his co-director, Brendan Ellis have directed this old-style English Pantomime, where the script is written on two levels; one for the children, showing the old-fashioned story, the other with contemporary jokes and slightly blue double-entendres for the parents – although now, even the youngest children are starting to understand many of the adult jokes.

The principal boy, Kylie Webb, really captured the traditional style of the character in her excellent delivery, although there was no thigh slapping. A male in outrageous drag, on the other hand, usually plays the Dame; here, unfortunately, the dame’s costume was smart, standard ‘old lady’ clothes. There should have been masses of padding and tasteless textiles of wild rainbow colours. The dame’s delivery is normally like that of a husband caught in a farce scene, stooped and filled with panic, with arms flaying around, here it was played fairly straight.

The crowd scene at one stage, had the villagers standing in a straight diagonal line, when milling around would have added to the excitement.

The villagers smiled and showed interest at what was happening on the stage. The baddies were great, especially Hepzibah, Cloaca with her swirling cape who really captured the audience, and HP, who would put fear into any villager. The animals, Woolly and Astrophe were great fun and sparkled. The team worked well, even with a large cast there was not a weak link.

The well-played music (Tim Newhouse) was lively, although I felt the dancers did not employ it enough. Perhaps a little more volume as this is a musical and loud bouncy show.

In almost every department, sound, lighting, costume, set, choreography, special effects, slapstick and general pantomime, the magical glow was only reaching about 80% of the quality potential. The cast were generally strong but could have been employed more. Because of this the audience participation and banter was flat, very little booing at the witches, virtually no ‘behind you’, even when prompted by the director and me in the audience.

An enjoyable panto, good fun but unfortunately just missed the mark.