Like the Church of England itself, the Merton Parish Players know how to combine uniformity with diversity. Every annual pantomime, though faithful to the time-honoured conventions, seems to differ in style from its predecessors. Last year we had a more or less original ''book" and some excellent dance routines. This year's production, apart from having no curate in the cast - a sad loss - was notable for scenery and machinery. Artistic (though in one instance slightly crumpled) backcloths containing functional doors and windows, a "practical" pump, movable milestones, a flight on a broomstick, water running uphill - all these features reflected great credit on Pete Wood and his assistant Paul Moir. The lighting was (apart from a harvest moon with five o'clock shadow) equally effective, especially in the splendidly noisy storm scenes: high marks to two other Woods, John (Lighting) and Hugh (Stage Manager) and to Nicola Moir (Properties).
Elizabeth Blazdell made an excellent principal girl, who sang and moved very well. Playing opposite her, Graham McCubbin was perhaps less at ease than in his rumbustious comedy roles of yore, but he put over even the most insipid of his lines with a fine show of conviction. The comedy this time was in the safe hands of Roy Venables, ably assisted by Simon Eve and Melvyn Proctor, as two carolling infantrymen, and a reformed witch in the person of Carl Sims, startlingly glamorous until you came to the boots and the bass voice.
And what, you may ask, was the story? In pantomime it hardly matters, but, just for the record, it was "Jack and Jill", very thoroughly re-worked. Jayne Cockburn is too tall and has too nice a figure to look like a small boy, but she moved, stood and spoke like a small boy, which was a considerable achievement. Irene Teague made a lively "Jill" (though how she found time to learn her lines well as taking responsibility for all those excellent costumes is a mystery). The part of their elder sister was played (charmingly, in spite of throat trouble so severe that Janet Gout had to deputise on the second evening) by Kay Webb. David Golder, one of last year's leads was opposite Miss Webb: his clear baritone voice was a considerable asset at the beginning of the show.
No pantomime is complete without a villain. Michael Newton as the Wizard, roared and raged to the complete satisfaction of the multitude of children in the audience. He was opposed (of course) by the Good Fairy (Ann Burt, looking delightful in daffodil yellow).
Other parts were played with much verve, by Peggy Case, Bob Freeborn, Sarah MihiII and Jane Murphy, Julian Clayton and Matthew Start, Susan Thrale and Geoffrey Start. A special word of praise is due to the ladies and gentlemen of the chorus, who sang most tunefully and moved about the stage with all the precision which its small dimensions required. Thank you, Christine, Gillian, Amanda, Valerie, Lucy, Chris, Janet, Mary, Lesley, Wendy, Georgina, Dominic and Pippa. The direction of the pantomime was professional in its thoroughness. Helena Venables and Margaret Newton deserved all the applause the got at the end for a show which succeeded in being most entertaining while remaining in good taste throughout. Indeed, those who took part in any capacity deserve praise for working so hard and giving so much of their spare time to amuse their fellow-parishioners. Those who grumble so much at the nation's young people might do worse than to take a trip to Merton Park.
And now a coda. The Band (almost big enough, nowadays, to call itself a Theatre Orchestra) was indefatigable and superbly efficient. This was John Ashworth's tenth Parish Panto; here's to the next ten years.