Haslemere Thespians have brought many favourites of panto past back to Haslemere Hall this January for magical medley, Once Upon a Time, and it might just be their best pantomime yet.

As can be expected from a Thespians’ production, it promises an ensemble featuring many familiar faces and a riotous mix of slapstick, smutty gags, popular songs and yes, some acting too. Oh, and bucket-loads of fun.

One minute the audience is booing the wonderfully wicked witch Perfidia, played with malice by Sally Waghorn, and the next chuckling at the verbal pyrotechnics volleyed between the mature, and warring, Cinderella and Snow White (Amy Bailey and Caroline Thompson).

The always-excellent Naomi Robertson again takes the comic lead as jester Bang alongside comedic companion and fellow jester Flash (wallop… geddit?), played with confidence by Dan Bayley in his first adult panto principal role. 

Haslemere Hall manager Howard Bicknell joins the fun as dame, Gertie, all the more entertaining for occasionally misplacing his (or her) lines.

Kusi Kimani, new to the world of am dram, shines as sassy Princess Tullulah – the daughter of Cinderella soon to marry son of Snow White, Prince Marvellous (Zac Rusulian), and in doing so curse all villains to oblivion.

In this blend of panto staples, Jack, of beanstalk fame, also makes a reappearance as the Prince’s thigh-slapping right-hand man (Kim Seymour), while Richard Ashton and Mike Byrne flourish as Cinderella and Snow White’s respective Prince Charmings.

There are roles too for the Mad Hatter (Tom Parrott), Hare (Yasmin Wright) and Alice (Izzy Gammon) – as well as Captain Hook (Adrian Stent), Little Red Riding Hood (Robyn Davies) and the Wolf (Jasper Gammon), plus four of the seven dwarves, now going by their ‘real’ names Bill (Liv Sellers), Barry (Ruari Watt), Ron (Iris Le Fevre) and Harry (Hannah Chant).

The story is original – Perfidia is hell-bent on stopping Tullulah and Marvellous’ wedding, and casts a spell on the Princess banishing her to the edge of Panto Land. The Prince sets off to rescue his bride-to-be but discovers she’s more than capable of rescuing herself…

But it ticks off all the panto staples, oh yes it does, with a good mix of topical gags including swipes at Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and a certain shaggy-haired former prime minister – “you make as much sense as Boris Johnson’s tax return!” – and the cast clearly enjoy themselves just as much as the audience.

Highlights include the Charmings – now drinking buddies while their wives lock horns – slurring a rapid-fire wordplay number, and an anarchic tea party hosted by the Hatter and Hare which ends in cake and sugar lumps flying across the stage.

A huge community effort goes into the Thespians’ pantomime every year and the direction and set designs of Hazel Hawkswell, Tony Legat’s lighting design, the Chris Snelling-led band, Vicki Williams’ choreography, producer Helen Coyte and the many costume creators deserve particular mention.

It’s bonkers, bawdy and brilliant – and leaves a very happy audience to step out of Haslemere Hall into the cold January air, high-fiving the cast as they go and donating to the production’s chosen charity, volunteer-based blood delivery service SERV Surrey and London.

It is a worthy cause, and Once Upon a Time is a more than worthy reason to take the family down to Haslemere Hall this January.

Haslemere Thespians’ 2024 pantomime Once Upon a Time is on the stage at Haslemere Hall until January 20. Book tickets at haslemerehall.co.uk

Daniel Gee