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Jack and the Beanstalk

reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Ipswich on 10 December

This Chris Jordan pantomime is a traditional one in many ways. There’s a Principal Boy as Jack (Lisa Mathieson) and a scene-stealing Dame Trott (Paul Laidlaw). The multi-named cow (Dulcie? Clarabelle? Daisy?) deserves a programme credit in her own right and the beanstalk is sufficiently spectacular.

Cliff Parisi’s Fleshcreep rather lets it all down. He doesn’t really convince as the villain – too prone to lollop on and off stage  and Melanie Masson’s Fairy Fuschiaa too easily dominates him. Mathieson makes an attractive hero who deserves to win Victoria Farley’s Princess Jill.

Of the two main comics, Laidlaw has the audience in the palm of his hand from first entrance, and Aidan O’Neill’s Simple Simon doesn’t take long to recruit us all in his gang. Siôn Tudor Owen plays King Custard and Matt Lee-Steer doubles the Town Crier and the ferocious, ravening Giant Blunderbore.

The choreography of Ashley Glazebrook and Glen Murphy (aka Twist and Pulse) at times taxes the female dancers of the ensemble, though the men have some eye-riveting leaps and turns to compensate. James Cleeve’s band is ensconced at audience level stage left and the standard of singing throughout is good; Laidlaw’s farewell to her cow stills the house.

Three and a half-star rating.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre until 28 January. Performance dates and times vary. Check with the theatre’s box office at :www.gordon-craig.co.uk for availability.

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Music Music theatre & Opera, Pantomimes & Christmas season shows, Reviews 2017

Jack and the Beanstalk

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 15 December)

What can you do with a favourite pantomime story which both keeps the traditional narrative flow and yet brings it into an unusual context? Richard Gauntlett as writer, director and Dame with costume designer Kisteen Wythe and choreographer Dee Jago seem to have re-discovered the magic formula with a Jack and the Beanstalk given a country’n’western makeover. We’re in prospecting country sometime in the late 1890s.

Another twist is that the Giant is not the main villain of the piece, rather that’s his boss Phineas P Stinkworthy. As this extremely dodgy and mercenary character is played by Wayne Sleep, he really gives the good guys a run for their money, let alone their ultimate success. What’s more, Sleep not only shows that he can still do fast turns from one side of the stage to the other – he also contributes a show-stopping tap number.

Gauntlett knows just how to play Dame; Nigella Trottalot runs the eponymous cattle and chicken ranch with minimal assistance from her sons Jack (David Burilin) and Billy (Ben Langley). Langley measures up to the comedy sequences, including the ghosties and ghoulies scene and the kitchen slop scene. Burilin conveys a nice sense of Oklahoma!-style naïveté, like that musical’s hero Curly, as he does his best to be helpful while wooing Jolene (Mira Ormale), the daughter of David Gant’s Sheriff Hiccup. Their voices blend together extremely well.

Pantomime fairies come in all shapes and guises these days. Here we have saloon proprietress Dolly, who arrives air-borne and runs an establishment which patently caters for our its frequenters’ needs. Harriet Bunton lays on the glitter as well as the required brashness to good effect. led by David Carter makes a sparkling contribution to thhe song and dance numbers. It’s all enough to send one out of the theatre prepared to go out West the very next day. Top marks to all concerned.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 15 January. Check the theatre website (theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk) for performance times.

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Filed under Pantomimes & other seasonal shows, Reviews 2016

Jack and the Beanstalk

(reviewed at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford on 3 December)

It’s billed as “a giant of a pantomime” and this One From The Heart production measures up to that description. Simon Aylin’s script falls tidily on the ear and Kerris Peeling’s direction keeps the action fast moving. Damian Czarnecki’s choreography gives excellent opportunities to both the ensemble (from Laine Theatre Arts) and the local juvenile dancers.

Costumes are bright and the fary-tale book sets have the right suggestion of not-quite real. Ben Ellis Strathie makes a dashing Jack with David McKechnie’s Fleshcreep as a worthy opponent, eminently hissable. Neil Bromley’s Dame Trott is in the traditional mould, trying (and failing) to keep both Jack and his brother Silly Billy (Samuel Parker) under her thumb. Both quickly establish an excellent rapport with the audience,

Daisy the cow knows how to dance (has she perhaps been watching the Lipizzaners of the Spanish Riding School?) and uses her doe eyes and long, long lashes to good effect. Gabriela Gregorian is Jill, a princess who knows her own mind – not necessarily following her father (Stephen McGlynn)’s instructions. Trying the lead the forces of good is Katie Brennan as Fairy Nuff, not the brighest student at fairy school, but willing to persevere.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford until 2 January. Check the website (chelmsford.gov.uk/theatres) for performance times.

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Filed under Pantomimes & other seasonal shows, Reviews 2016

Jack and the Beanstalk

(reviewed at the Rhodes Arts Centre, Bishop’s Stortford on 11 December 2015)

You can trust the annual Rhodes pantomime master-minded by Phil Dale (co-script writer, co-director and surely the only bearded Dame in the business under the nom de guerre Sarah Cook to fill the wide but shallow stage and spill action across the auditorium.

It’s traditional – the Principal Boy title role is filled by Katie Miller (with a cleavage) – but also quirky with its three comics – William Eaden as Jack’s brother Silly Billy, a sort of Mickey Rooney clone, and that Laurel and Hardy duo of Wingnut (Daniel Boulton) and Spanners (Dan James).

Our villain is Baron Backhander who Duncan Rutherford plays as a particularly selfish hedge fund manager, not light years away from last year’s King Ratputin. Oh yes, and there’s a proper over-sized Giant as well (George Jack). Fairy Evangeline Rainpetal (Jeanne Stacey, who is also co-director) has to work hard on Jack’s behalf.

Georgia Collins is Jill, the object of Jack’s affections and a bright lass who has the measure of her grasping father. Central to the story is Daisy the cow (Jack and Drew Gregg step out neatly). The choreography is by Katie Barker-Dale and really shows of the young dancers. Miles Forman (sporting a fetching piano-keyed scarf) and Lee Levent are the musicians.

Act Two takes us high into the skies with the Giant’s castle veiled in mist. We meet some raucous seagulls, more or less under the control of Dr Albert Ross (Gregg, who also voices the disgruntled goose). Thanks to – or should that be n spite of? – Milky Mary’s ballooning interventions on behalf of her two sons, all of course ends as it should do.

This season’s crop of farting jokes flourishes, as do an alarming number of references to testicles. We don’t really believe that Backhander will metamorphose into Candy Man, but I always think that the test of a proper pantomime villain is that we know he is down but never quite out. Even when his nemesis is a giant-slayer.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Rhodes Arts Centre, Bishop’s Stortford until 2 January.

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Filed under Pantomimes & seasonal shows, Reviews 2015

Jack and the Beanstalk

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 6 December 2015)

This year’s Theatre Royal pantomime may have a traditional story but writer Chris Hannon, director Karen Simpson and designer Rebecca Lee have given it some intriguing twists. The action is set in the 1970s, when men’s trousers were flared, girls wore miniskirts and hippy flower-power dominated. So Wendy (Leonie Spilsbury), our magical guide, is flower-wreathed and maxi-gowned.

Jack is Oliver Mawdsley, shyly in love with hot-panted Jill (Louise Olley), the daughter of Elvis-clone Duke Box; Chris Clarkson sports an enormous quiff and a glittering white outfit. Demanding money with menaces (children taken for baking in lieu) is Ghastly Gordon. Alan Mehdizadeh is certainly a chef you wouldn’t want anywhere near your own kitchen.

Under his ladle and rolling-pin is Sue Chef (Nancy Hill), who doesn’t really want to be as nasty as her boss would like. But Duke Box has no spare cash and Tina Trumpington (James Parkes), Jack’s mother, has even less. Cue the sale of Daisy the cow, a bovine with a satin-udder who captures the audience heart with her first hoof step.

Act Two sees our hero confronting David Zachary’s Giant, a marvellous contraption of swollen belly, long long arms and legs and a ridiculously small head crowned with a minute top hat. This is where we meet Dottee (Spilsbury), the Giant’s seen-it-all-before wife. Kung fu expert Jill is a better match for Gordon than Jack, let alone the other space-travelling mortals.

I failed to warm to Parkes’ Dame, a somewhat rough characterisation, though the flour scene in the Trumpington windmill is a good variant of the traditional slop scene; this windmill boasts an engaging puppet mouse, and I think the youngsters in the audience would have liked to see more of him. The rock’n’roll dance numbers (Julia Cave is the choreographer) are fast-paced and both the Act One Elvis “Megamix” and the Act Two “Cooking up the bits” (a variation on “Puttin’ on the Ritz” are stand-outs.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal until 10 January.

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Filed under Pantomimes & seasonal shows, Reviews 2015