Chris Eldon Lee reviews Jack and the Beanstalk, which is at Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn until January 13th 2013
I walked into Theatre Severn last night on a dark, damp, dismal evening – and walked away with all the joys of spring.
A Good Fairy waved a magic wand over the Shrewsbury pantomime last year and the new partnership with Paul Hendy’s Telford-based Evolution production company is reaping big rewards. This is a panto for Shrewsbury to be really proud of.
Their policy is NOT to stuff the cast with tele-celebs; and I thoroughly approve. Why work hard to create an illusion of an innocent, alternative world and then destroy it by bringing on a TV star who can only do their own well-worn routine?
Instead, we get a very hard working and highly talented ensemble, which works hand in hand with the audience – all pulling together to create a night to remember.
Consequently, the cast have no quarms about signposting the show. The comics lay a large blue tarpaulin across the stage and we all know (especially the front row) that it’s going to get very messy. The Crazy Gang comedy caper that ensues – in which Dame Trott and her silly son Billy try to operate an ice cream machine – is a classic pantomime set piece. They literally throw themselves into the gunge and it’s deliriously funny. Taking the mickey out of Muller’s (the sponsors) in the process adds an extra layer of intelligent finesse over the slapstick. In fact, this panto perfects the art of local irreverence. “I’ve been kissed by a fairy!” says Jack Trott. “I told you not to got to The Buttermarket,” moans his mum.
When he’s not covered in cack, Brad Fitt’s Dame Trott purrs her way through this show like a well-oiled Rolls Royce, delivering finely-judged, throw-away jokes in an aristocratic accent. If Noel Coward had ever done panto, he’d have been quite like Brad Fitt who has a penchant for insider quips. “Have you noticed,” he confides in the audience, “there are two fewer villagers whenever the cows comes on?” Once more, we’re all in this together.
Bovine Buttercup pushes the boundaries of pantomime cowness, producing bottled beer and dancing Gangnam style. The guys inside her put their heart and soul into it, as does Adam Moss (as Billy Trott) who enthusiastically sticks his head in a bucket of yellow goo and helps the audience keep count of the dreadful jokes about Princess Tamara’s name.
The immortals are great. Paul Hendy has written witty verse with unexpected rhymes for Laura Jane Matthewson’s Good Fairy to perkily deliver in a child-friendly, naturalistic style. It’s a lovely mix of traditional panto posture (hands held in the nail drying position) whilst being thoroughly modern with the rhythm of her speech.
And once we get to the giant’s Cloud Land, Andrew Fettes does a great impression of Mick Jagger singing “Hey, You, Get Off of My Cloud.” In fact there are several clever musical jokes, including a mercilessly re-written but perfectly sung parody of Les Miserables as an Act One finale.
Add to all that an impressively large Mohican giant, a string of seriously painful cheese jokes and a ‘Thunderbirds’ beanstalk (you can see the string) and I think you’ll get the general idea that this show takes the rise out of the venerable panto tradition, whilst faithfully complying with it’s virtues and values. It’s not to be missed.
Chris Eldon Lee
Visit www.theatresevern.co.uk for bookings & information about Theatre Severn
Last year I said Shropshire lad Paul Hendy’s production of Aladdin at Theatre Severn was the best I’d seen but today I was lucky enough to be able to say it again after watching his company Evolution Productions’ version of Jack and the Beanstalk at the same venue.
Dame Trott (played by Brad Fitt and also director of the show) was a familiar face from last year and was as brilliant as ever – in an array of fantastic costumes and boasting layers of bright make-up and padding the Dame entertained the packed theatre with her tongue in cheek one liners, off the cuff remarks and the ridiculing of fellow cast members and of course that unlucky person in the front row – which this year was ‘Stuart’ the unfortunate one also to be picked on by the Dame at last year’s show.
The crowd loved the smiling face and silly jokes and behaviour of Billy Trott and of course the talented West End talent of his brother Jack who became the hero after climbing the beanstalk and saving his princess Tamara (not tomorrow – today! Goodness it’s contagious!)
No pantomime would be complete without the mess and mayhem of custard pies or gunge or in this case ice-cream which was well mixed using Billy’s head, resulting in lots of slipping and sliding by Billy and Dame Trott.
Another county star – King Eric (Eric Smith from Radio Shropshire) – was fantastic with his natural presence on the stage and his enthusiasm and love of the panto portrayed throughout the two-hour performance. After 10 years of practice he is well rehearsed and proves to be a real trooper by continuing with his breakfast show throughout – we need to make sure Evolution Productions don’t steal the county’s much loved Eric on a full-time basis.
Just to ensure the audience hadn’t forgotten how to “boo” and “hiss” baddie Fleshcreep was a regular on stage to keep the characters and the audience on their toes after stealing everyone’s favourite Buttercup the Cow who even managed to shake some groovy moves on stage.
But the stage came to life (literally) when the Giant entered and giant he was. As a mum with two young children (aged three and 20-months-old) I had been given prior warning by a theatregoer from yesterday’s debut show that the giant was in fact “giant” and his voice was loud. They were right. My two boys seemed unfazed but there were a few apprehensive faces around the theatre so it might be worth preparing those who may be a little bit worried that really he is a gentle giant!
Audience participation came in the form of throwing “peas” at the Giant to rid the stage of him which was enjoyed by all.
Whilst the cast, boasting many who have taken a break from the West End to perform in Shrewsbury, were supported by more county talent in the form of 20 youngsters from local dance schools. They have much to be proud of and should be inspired by the work and career of Dawley-born producer Paul Hendy.
The sets, dozens of quality elaborate costumes, special effects and the singing and dancing talents seemed to be plucked straight from the Capital and dropped right on our doorstep in Shropshire. Last year was a record-breaker for Theatre Severn’s box office but watch this space.
I just have one tip of the day to Theatre Severn bosses – make sure you’ve got Evolution Productions booked for 2013 before someone else snaps them up. If they act on my tip then roll on December 2013!
Jack and the Beanstalk runs until January 13. To book call the box office on 01743 281281 or visit www.theatresevern.co.uk
Love Shrewsbury.com review
Jack and the Beanstalk
The auditorium literally bristled with hyper excited children finding everything just so very thrilling. It’s a great time at school, it’s the end of the term and they know Santa is doing his final checks so naturally with an air of explosive anticipation the curtain rose to take us all on a mystical adventure with laughter and fun all the way.
This year it was Jack and the Beanstalk. With help from the lavish props and scenery it was easy for everyone to settle back, suspend their disbelieve and be led through a land of magic and true traditional theatre.
Not everyone is a fan of this genre but everyone who was there tonight certainly was, as the “behind you”s the “oh no he didn’t”s and the “oh yes he did”s raised the roof of Shrewsbury’s wonderful showcase theatre.
Enjoyment is infectious and with the brilliant timing, the actors weaving their way so superbly through a very demanding script, everyone was raised on a wave of delight as Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn once more delivered the goods with a stunning end of year romp through one of the oldest art forms in British Theatre.
The rules or conventions in Panto are extremely important as without them there really wouldn’t be a show. So with the usual flutter of transgendered mothers, the boy always getting the girl, good triumphing over evil and the humbling attrition shown by the evil forces, we were shown what forms this once mystical and garish art-form. Pantomime.
So slickly the one-liners kept coming, so naturally and brilliantly delivered. To watch Brad Fitt’s Dame Trott doing what he/she does so well is a master-class in pantomimic brilliance. He/she deserves a medal. To watch his timing, his handling of situations, his characterisation and to witness his pure talent is a treat that, for the next six weeks will be there every night putting the icing on what is already a beautifully baked cake.
BBC Radio Shropshire’s breakfast man Eric Smith needs a special mention too as this year he celebrates his tenth year in Pantomime. His experience showed as King Eric, as he was known, kept the story line on track and won the hearts of the audience as the hapless king.
This is top drawer entertainment, this is what Shrewsbury wants. It’s been a tough year for so many and a bit of a laugh as it fades away towards a new set of twelve months is a good way to end it.
To play pantomimic comedy it is essential that everything works and the whole theatre is in sync. The scene changes, the lighting and sound all have to work together to create the magic. The double-entendres, the Dame, The pantomime cow, the magic beanstalk are all there to make this a show for all the family.
If you can get there do, to those with fears or worries that it just isn’t them I would seriously advise you to leave your grumpy self at home and go and see that in this ever increasingly fast and hi tech life of ours, the simplest things can still make us hoot with laughter. It’s what we as a species like to do and of course it marks us out from the animals.
And now as I finish this review I am looking for my coffee, oh where did I put it? I know, I remember, IT’S BEHIND ME! Well done all!
This is a five star review.
Jack and the Beanstalk – The Stage
Published Monday 17 December 2012 at 14:59 by Richard Edmonds
In a way, this is an ideal panto, with all the established virtues firmly in place. The villagers twirl happily in the opening number, a mere mention of the naughty giant brings on ear-splitting thunder crashes, the girls are pretty, the boys are handsome, the magic beanstalk comes in on cue and the Princess Tamara marries Jack – all engineered by Dame Trott, played by the wonderful Brad Fitt.
This dame is panto gentry – shops at Harrods, has the right vowel sounds, is socially accomplished, wears Jimmy Choo-type boots – and continually lifts the show.
Adam Moss as Billy Trott is an accomplished zany, while Jo Parsons as Jack Trott is highly personable in the manner of a TV games show presenter, and can list a performance as Prince Charming among his credits. He has a mixture of courage and dash, the requisite character strengths for going up beanstalks and battling with giants.
But this is not a panto for excitement. There is no sense of danger, just a comfortable and frequently droll narrative, which cooks up ghosts, audience involvement and a twinkly walkdown, finally leaving no impression at all.