If you’re not a fan of the traditional pantomime, then fear not – there is another Christmas treat playing at the Belgrade Theatre this year. This year’s annual alternative pantomime, Over The Top, is a non-stop show of jokes and puns helmed by four actresses that make up one of the best casts you’ll see in quite some time.
Over The Top is a performance that marks a pair of important anniversaries – the centenary of the end of the First World War and the beginning of the suffragette movement, and the show combines them both (to quote the programme, it “looks for a moment of uplifting hope in what was for many people their darkest hour”). I don’t want to outline the story too much because I think it would lessen the impact of the show (and its ending in particular), but I can say that it features a mission that takes its leads from the music hall to the fields of Harfleur at Christmas.
The show has one of the best casts you’ll see in quite some time
The four actresses play 16 parts between them (with a fair degree of quick change in between), and they are all absolutely magical. Laura Tipper, Aimee Powell, Kimisha Lewis and Miriam Grace Edwards all have phenomenal stage presence. The focus of the show shifts a fair bit, giving each of them their own moments to take the spotlight (although an individual actress is never off-stage for any sizeable period), and the quality never falters. The four have a lot to do, playing numerous characters and remembering their mannerisms as well as rattling off the jokes, and they never stop. It’s rare to see a cast bounce off each other so well, and with such engaging energy. Each of the four is fantastic in their own right, and they make a near-unbeatable ensemble.
Now, your experience of the show is likely to be coloured by your enjoyment of lame puns and gags (I, personally, really enjoy them). I shan’t ruin them all (because they take up most of the script), but here’s an example: when confronted with a tense situation in a café famed for its cheese, one character quips that they “Camembert it”. Although a number of them truly are groan-worthy (something we’re promised in the programme), the delivery is on point and the cast really sells them. There are also some aspects of meta-humour I think worked really well, ragging on some of the cheap scenery and the location.
It’s rare to see a cast bounce off each other so well, and with such engaging energy
I very much enjoyed this show, but there is one issue that I want to pick fault with. There is an interesting framing device in this play (I don’t want to ruin what it is in case you see the show, but let’s say it involves performance and repetition), but the way it was used left me confused. After the first instance, Mickey quips that the audience look confused, but they’ll figure it out in time – maybe I was just being dense, but I never did, and rumblings in the audience suggested I wasn’t alone. Strip away the framing, and it’s an interesting and enjoyable story, so I don’t see why it was made harder to follow. It didn’t ruin my experience of the night, but I do now feel that I’ve missed something along the way.
Despite this tiny grumble, it’s hard to understate how good Over The Top is, and how much it packs into its hour runtime. It is fun yet poignant at points (especially in the ending, which is incredibly powerful, and which has stayed with me since), and the cast of four are simply marvellous – the sheer energy they bring to the performance is palpable, and they transform this pun-filled adventure into a must-watch experience.
Over the Top is at the Belgrade Theatre until Saturday 29 December. Tickets are available here.