Review: The Mystery of St Finnigan’s Elbow, by Pat Whymark and Julian Harries, Eastern Angles

Eastern Angles' The Mystery of St Finnigans Elbow, Francesca Gosling and Alice Mottram

Eastern Angles' The Mystery of St Finnigans Elbow, Francesca Gosling and Alice Mottram - Credit: Archant

The Mystery of St Finnigan’s Elbow, by Pat Whymark and Julian Harries, Eastern Angles, Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich until January 10, then Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge January 13-24 2015

Eastern Angles' The Mystery of St Finnigans Elbow, Samuel Martin, Joe Leat, Alice Mottram

Eastern Angles' The Mystery of St Finnigans Elbow, Samuel Martin, Joe Leat, Alice Mottram - Credit: Archant

With the world awash with pantomimes, Eastern Angles has always offered something different with their Christmas show and this year they have come up with a classic piece of silliness.

The Mystery of St Finnigan’s Elbow is a heady mix of St Trinians, Father Ted and has a healthy dollop of The 39 Steps dropped in for good measure.

The secret of a great Eastern Angles Christmas show is that it settles upon a well known genre, such as classic literarture or 1950s B movies, and then affectionately sends up the conventions that we all know and love.

St Finnigan’s is a real ‘wizard’ boys/girls own adventure set in a 1930s girls convent boarding school on the Suffolk coast – a place where no-one is who they appear to be and a German U Boat is waiting to receive a mysterious package.

In terms of gags per minute and the sheer invention on display this has to be one of the very best shows that the team of Whymark and Harries have delivered over the past 20 years – easily comparable with other favourites such as The Masters of Mayhem, Bats Over Bleedham Market or Parson Combs.

The writing certainly sparkles, but, St Finnigan’s also benefits from a talented cast that is completely on top of the material and are clearly having as much fun as the audience.

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Head boy is Eastern Angles regular Greg Wagland, who plays school bully Lydia Bumolé and head of governors Rear Admiral Sir Benton Kean, while newcomer Joe Leat makes for a commanding mother superior. He may give her a twinkle in her eye but she is obviously a force to be reckoned with. He also doubles up as the Latin master Mr Facsimile.

Francesca Gosling delivers a suitably breathless performance as new girl Alicia Trumptington, who takes the audience into her confidence and guides everyone through the twists and turns of the plot via a series of letters to her pen friend.

Alice Mottram has huge fun as PE mistress Sister Usain Bolt and Alicia’s accident prone twin Lulu while Samuel Martin is positively schizophrenic as the new nun Sister Judith and mysterious gardener Billy Buttons.

Costumes and characters are changed at lightning speed and that’s all part of the fun.

The brilliantly realised set not only meets the needs of the narrative but also supplies a few laughs of its own.

The entire show rattles past in a flood of laughter. There’s lots of silly audience participation thanks to several school assemblies and there were times I wished I had been placed in detention so I could experience it all again. The perfect cure for those winter blues.

Andrew Clarke

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