JACK AND THE BEANSTALK
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 11th December, 2012
As usual, the Wolverhampton pantomime is a lot of fun, adhering to the winning formula of corny jokes and barely relevant pop songs to enrich the retelling of a traditional story. The script by Jonathan Kiley and Michael Vivian hits all the plot points you expect with extra helpings of silliness along the way.
It is a curious thing in Pantoland that all the villages are populated by troupes of young dancers and small children. They perform an energetic opening number, led by Princess Apricot (Sophie Brooke-Ford) who has been seeing a commoner on the downlow: the eponymous Jack, played by Ben James-Ellis, who is the ideal pantomime hero. He’s handsome, sings, dances, and displays a neat line in cod heroic posturing and over-the-top reactions.
The traditional giant’s henchman, Fleshcreep, has been given a sex change and a new identity in order to accommodate Sherrie Hewson as “Lady Temple-Savage”. She appears in a range of glamorous outfits, all sequins and feathers, and is not shy of sending herself up. It didn’t matter that she lost her grip on some of the material – in fact it added to the fun. I enjoyed booing her very much.
Ken Morley is King Crumble, in a bumbling, funny characterisation – I was pleased that his and Hewson’s Coronation Street connection was only alluded to and not done to death. Niki Evans impresses as Fairy Fortune – her voice works very well with James-Ellis’s in a couple of rousing numbers. Most of the fun and audience interaction comes from Keith Harris and little green duck Orville. It struck me that the kids in the audience might not know who he is. They certainly did by the end of the evening. Harris remains a skilled and talented ventriloquist but it is when he replaces the duck for the anarchic monkey Cuddles that his act really takes off. The jokes become more puerile and ever nearer the knuckle, delighting children and adults on different (low) levels.
For me the shining star of the night is veteran of 38 pantomimes, Nigel Ellacott, who storms the stage as Jack’s ‘mother’, Dame Trot. His performance is a master class in pantomime technique, a controlled display yet he is able to improvise and adlib as the need arises. It is performers of this calibre that keep this theatrical form alive, rather than TV stars and ‘reality celebs’ just mucking around.
Andrew Lynford’s direction takes in traditional business and contemporary references, keeping the energy levels high for most of the show. The performance I saw was still early in the run – the routines and gags will settle in, and the cast will bond into a more tightly knit ensemble with every show they do.
Picture credit: Gavin Dickson Photography