Babes in the Wood - just the tonic!

Elbows in, bums out and thumbs up for a real Honiton night of laughter.

Faces creased with laughter - for all the right reasons - when Honiton Pantomime Society dished up just the tonic to banish the winter blues.

And, just so nobody forgets this is a special Olympic year, an Olympic torch was carried onto the stage when the curtain went up last Wednesday.

Babes in the Wood, performed at Honiton Community College, combined every ingredient expected of an enthusiastic and talented cast to deliver one of the most comic performances staged in the society’s 27-year history.

Written by Stephen Duckham and directed by founder society member and former Honiton mayoress, not to mention a leading light on the town’s carnival committee, Jenny Allen, this was a show that brought together both established and new talent - and drew on a successful stage partnership, galvanised in recent years, between Shaun Bonetta and Lou Pottinger (Whippem and Floggem, the money-mad Sir Silas Skinflint’s henchmen).

Both are well-known in Honiton for their stage presence. Lou is also a member of Axminster Operatic Society and Fusion Carnival Club.

Between them, they weaved a form of comic magic that provided a thread throughout the classic fairytale.

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The traditional storyline, punctuated with thoroughly modern songs and glitzy costumes, told the tale of money-grabbing sheriff Sir Silas Skinflint and his ill-fated attempts to do away with the orphaned Babes, Jaya Foster (Jack) and Amelia Hibbert (Jill), so he could get his hands on their late father’s fortune. He was helped along the way by evil witch Nell Nightshade, exceedingly well-played by Heather Eardley.

But fairy Greenwillow, confidently portrayed by Tracey Bonetta, put paid to Skinflint’s heinous plan by using her own kind of magic - and with the help of an ingenious prop, a ‘listening tree’.

During the show, she brought together Robin Hood (Beth Hibbert) - who offered sanctuary to the Babes in Sherwood Forest - and Maid Marion (Beth Sillitoe).

The role of the Babes’ nanny, Nurse Jemima Jollop, the dame, was portrayed brilliantly by Barry Simmonds.

Audiences in Honiton, over many years, have grown accustomed to seeing Max Pipe as the dame, but Barry brought a refreshing new pout - and plenty of tonic! - to the role. Well done!

Everyone knows there is a happy ending to every pantomime, so it’s time to leave the storyline and mention the outstanding performances.

Top of the list has got to be the fantastic musicians - Catherine Warren, Chris Weightman, Steve Pike and (rehearsal pianist) Emily Miller.

Acting highlights were provided by Alex Jackson (Sir Silas Skinflint), who recently appeared in Honiton Community College’s acclaimed production of Les Miserables. A talent to be reckoned with!

Sean Bonetta and Lou Pottinger, along with Barry Simmonds, were the cast members who helped Alex really ‘make’ the show.

Who will ever forget the enchanting performances given by up-and-coming stars of the future, Jaya Foster and Amelia Hibbert? Absolutely brilliant for ones so young.

Singing highlights were Songbird (by Beth Hibbert and Beth Sillitoe), If I Were Rich and Famous (by Shaun Bonetta and Lou Pottinger) and I’m So Pretty (by the chorus and Barry Simmonds).

The dancing was particularly good in gold hotpants, almost Kylie-style, and during the cast’s rendition of Time Warp - when the society’s former chairman, Val Lloyd, although dressed as a corpse, revealed she’s got legs even Angela Rippon would die for!

But, for me, it was audience members who left a lasting impression.

You can always count on Honitonians for a good laugh and they didn’t let themselves - or their town - down when they rushed forward to take to the stage to join in with the ‘community song’.

There was no hiding behind programmes or sliding down in their seats for this brazen lot!

Elbows in, bums out and thumbs up, people of all ages - from toddlers to glamorous pensioners - merrily helped to make it a night to remember.

Babes in the Wood should go down in Honiton’s history as the pantomime that broke the curse of recession and gave residents a good ol’ laugh - just what everybody needs!