Tag Archives: Hollie Cassar

Jack and the Beanstalk

reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 1 December

Writer Andrew Pollard and director Martin Berry, abetted by designer Richard Foxton, have worked one of the now-fashionable variations into this year’s pantomime. For most of the action, the setting is the somewhat run-down funfair operated by Frank Furter (Richard Emerson).

He’s a loud-mouthed, tartan-suited leftover from the glory days of rock’n’roll. His daughter Jill (Elizabeth Rowe) has just returned from “finishing school” – and is fly enough to know a financial sinking ship when it passes under her nose. Still clinging on (just) is ice-cream vendor Dotty Trott (John Barr).

Her amiable but not very bright or co-ordinated son Jack (James William-Pattison) has made a pet of their one remaining cow Pat (Claire Greenway). Their main trouble is that Pat refuses to be milked by either Trott. Then there’s the thoroughly nasty Hurricane (Taylor Rettke) who blows in demanding rent arrears.

A well-established Hornchurch tradition is to use actors who are also accomplished instrumentalists. Hollie Cassie is the on-stage musical director and also plays Fortuna, trapped in her booth until Jack’s innate kindness releases her. The second half takes everyone to Cloudland, reigned over by Celia Cruwys-Finnigan and Sheldon Greenland.

The latter is also the giant Big Dipper in an effective combination of monster puppet and actor. Barr is an experienced Dame, taking a wig malfunction in his-her stride. There are enough of the traditional gags, including a slop scene and the bench routine, to keep the story grounded in pantomime convention.

Three and a half-star rating.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 6 January. Performance dates and times vary, check the box office: 01708 443 333 or www.queens-theatre.co.uk for details.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Family & children's shows, Pamtomimes & other seasonal shows

Beauty and the Beast

(reviewed at the Palace Theatre, Watford on 8 December)

This year’s seasonal production boasts another of Andrew Pollard’s intelligently ear-engaging scripts; this time he and director Eleanor Rhode have tweaked the familiar story to produce what one might describe as pared-down panto. The format works very well, with a predominantly schools audience at the performance which I saw being thoroughly engrossed in the story’s nuances.

We’re in fin de siècle Paris. Spice merchant M Marzipan (Neil Stewart) needs to replenish his stock of sugar urgently, but he lacks the cash to do so until his ship (literally) comes home. In the meantime his younger daughter Soufflé (Jill McAusland) is spending money at luxury boutiques regardless, while his sister Amorette (Arabella Rodrigo) has her nose in a book most of the time.

Also in need of sugar is sweet-vendor Betty Bonbon (Terence Frisch) – you are going to learn quite a lot of French when she’s on stage. Frisch is an experienced Dame, one who knows just how to milk an audience, whatever its age group. Stewart plays well off him, notably in the second-act slop scene – well, you try making a sugarless cake! The point is that the majority of the characters come over as people, not just types.

Manipulating the action is the nasty Spite (Hollie Cassar), a witch of the first water who can put over a nifty tap-dance as well as her songs. Trying to counter her is Charlie Cupid (Dale Mathurin), a demi-god who would rather be an ordinary mortal. As I said, there are novel twists in this version of the story. Cursed by Spite, it’s no wonder that Robbie Smith’s Beast has grown morose and vengeful.

Cleo Petitt’s sets and costumes work well, with slightly distorted angles to the Beast/Prince’s castle and a clever black-theatre sequence when Marzipan and Bonbon find themselves at the castle, thanks to Cupid. This tytpe of staging proves that you don’t necessarily need a song-and-dance ensemble or a juvenile troupe to fill the stage. After all, theatre is magic – and when more so than at Christmas?

Beauty and the Beast runs at the Palace Theatre, Watford until 312 January. Check the theatre website (watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk) for performance times.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Pantomimes & other seasonal shows, Reviews 2016

Hot Stuff

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 26 May)

You could run a debate which would go on for even longer than the recent General Election campaign on precisely what the time lapse is – a decade? two? three? a half-century? – before the soft, warm glow of nostalgia settles on a period of history.

Take Hot Stuff, given a spankingly bright and brash new staging by director Matt Devitt and his team – music: julian Littmann, lighting: Chris Howcroft, costumes: Lydia Hardiman and choreography: Valentina Dolci and Karl Stevens. Maggie Norris and Paul Kerryson devised it over 25 years ago; it’s a variation on the Faust legend.

Our want-it-all, want-it-now hero is Joe (Matthew Quinn). His ambition is to be a pop star but his girl-friend Julie (Sarah Mahony) just wants to get married – and to win a ballroom dancing competition in spits of Joe’s less than enthusiastic partnering. Diabolus ex machina is Lucy Fur – the deliciously over-the-top drag artist Lady Felicia in a sequence of costumes to pit any pantomime dame to the blush.

In fact, there’s a strong pantomime element about the whole thing, including a cow who seems to have wandered in from Jack and the Beanstalk and, like that bovine, elicits our full sympathy. As with many pantomimes, one is conscious of an element of padding, often supplied through interaction with the audience.
That’s not to belittle Dolci’s dance routines, in which she leads her six ensemble members with verve and inventiveness, or Cameron Jones’ sinister narrator.

it is interesting to follow the mutation of popular music in the 70s (a political parallel is implied at several points). The melodic and harmonic ballads dissolve into something altogether more raucous as the decade progressed. Joe, of course, manages to top each trend as it assumes popularity with considerable help from his Lucy Fur-supplied girl friend Miss Hot Stuff (Hollie Cassar).

“Happiness was not in the contract” he’s told brusquely when he begins to yearn for Julie. In the meantime, Julie has made her own life emerging into flower-power and the flame of awakening feminism. Mahony, Cassar and Quinn all give good performances. I think the first-night audience would have been happy to sit through it all again. The performers must have been exhausted.

Hot Stuff runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 13 June.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Musicals, Reviews 2015