JACK AND THE BEANSTALK
The Attic Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Saturday 14th December, 2019
Stratford’s intimate Attic theatre may not seem a suitable venue for pantomime but clearly Tread The Boards Theatre Company, returning for their tenth Christmas show, know how to make it work. What we lose in scale and spectacle is more than compensated for by closeness and directness. Director Jennifer Rigby delivers all the crucial elements for a traditional show; the reach-out-and-touch properties of the space add a personal touch. We are all in it, inescapably, and the proximity of the actors adds to the fun and to our admiration of their talents.
John-Robert Partridge’s script gives the cast of seven plenty to do. Annaliese Morgan makes an appealing and fun Fairy Beansprout, brandishing a leek for some reason instead of a wand. Contrasting perfectly with her sweetness, is the sneering Danny Teitge as the Giant’s menacing henchman, Fleshcreep, in a detailed, hilarious performance that accentuates the comedy of the role. Jack Scott-Walker is suitably heroic as Jack, and his duet with the Princess (Nicolette Morgan) demonstrates his fine singing voice. The Princess is spirited and fun-loving, definitely not one of those royals who keeps herself aloof.
Marc Alden-Taylor quickly establishes himself as a favourite, swiftly befriending the audience and enlisting us into his ‘gang’ in a skilful portrayal of Simple Simon. The comic timing is spot on and his rapport with the audience, especially the children, is hugely enjoyable. There is energetic support from Linden Iliffe as a perky Lord Chamberlain, but the icing on this Christmas cake comes in the form of Pete Meredith’s superlative Dame Trot. Naughty but never vulgar, Meredith is a hoot with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of garish gowns and colourful wigs that complement his characterisation perfectly.
There are amusing scenes with Daisy the Cow (appearing as herself) and the Giant is heard but never seen – in fact it is here, that there’s a slight issue: the sound mix makes the Giant a bit hard to understand when he has prolonged dialogue, but the actions and reactions of the cast mean that we still get the gist of what he’s booming on about.
There are plenty of jokes and lots of well-worn routines: a bit of It’s-Behind-You with a prowling ghost, some silliness in a schoolroom scene, a breakneck rendition of The 12 Days of Christmas, a hilarious, if extraneous, balloon ballet that elicits belly laughs… and there is also excitement with an impressive bout of swordfighting between Jack and Fleshcreep, all the more thrilling at such close quarters. Running business with a bag of sweets keeps us actively engaged, but more could be made of the water pistols given to young audience members to ward characters off particular areas of the stage.
A highlight for me is a brand-new original song, composed by the excellent musical director Elliott Wallis and sung by Danny Teitge (with support from Daisy the Cow). Teitge’s delivery and Wallis’s skill make the number sound as if it has been lifted from a Broadway show. It fits perfectly the character and the context and is performed exquisitely.
In fact, the cast sells all the musical numbers well, with lively pop choreography by Catherine Prout, and when they all sing together it’s fantastic. The energy never flags in this fine, fun production that proves you don’t need grand spectacle and expensive effects to enchant and entertain.