In a crowded Christmas panto market, Theatre Royal Wakefield's offering delivers "all you want from a pantomime"
11 Dec 2013Ron Simpson
Theatre Royal Wakefield's Jack and the Beanstalk contains pretty much all you want from a pantomime. Chris Hannon's script combines clear story-telling with plenty of chases, hiding and fights, with enough asides to keep the adults happy and innocent rudery for the little ones: Jack's mother is Dame Tina Trumpington in the village of Windfield, so you can work out the secret weapon unleashed on the Giant's delicate nostrils!
As Berwick Kaler notches up his 35th pantomime at York, there is much talk of ad libs and improvisation, but Jack and the Beanstalk triumphs for opposite reasons. Though all the cast are very relaxed and audience participation is at fever pitch (except for one reluctant schoolteacher), it's the slickness, discipline and pace of Rhiannon Ellis' production that impress, sound and music underscoring words and phrases with spot-on precision.
Musically the production is excellent: Jim Lunt's three-piece (two keyboards and percussion) punches above its weight and the choice of songs strikes a nice balance between modern pop songs for Jack and the Princess and such classics as Putting on the Ritz, adapted as the evil chef's personal credo and sung and danced with aplomb by Nathan Taylor. Most important of all is the hefty proportion of good singing voices in the cast.
All seven principals share the fun. Harry Blumenau's Jack is a nice mix of hero, coward and village innocent, with a good rapport with the youthful audience, and forms a sparky duo with Laura Pick's bright and lively Princess Jill. Hannon's extravagant Dame Tina manages not to be upstaged by his/her costumes and Mark Stratton's Elvis-impersonating Duke Box conducts his dialogue in snatches of the King's greatest hits.
Nathan Taylor's camp Ghastly Gordon may be evil, but his culinary partnership with Amy Bird's Sue Chef, a mass of good intentions and confusion, is a joy. Catherine Terry soars above such silliness as the rhyming narrator Wendy before getting her chance to let her hair down as the Giant's Scots wife.
The designs (Mark Walters) are splendidly pictorial, the transformations very impressive, though Ghastly Gordon confides to the audience that the reason for a second lap of the round-the-audience chase is to give them enough time for a scene change. The Giant is suitably gigantic, Harmony the Harp suitably harmonious and Daisy the Cow, of course, steals the show – which just leaves the excellent young chorus and the imaginative choreography of Louise Denison.
Jack and the Beanstalk continues at the Theatre Royal Wakefield until 5 January 2014.