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Jack and the Beanstalk (Newbury)

Panto season kicks off with a bang and a new production of "Jack and the Beanstalk" at Newbury's Corn Exchange

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The cast
© Copyright (c) Owen Benson 2013

This year's foray into the age-old theatrical tradition is "Jack and the Beanstalk". This show, which I saw at a preview, illustrates that you do not need the so-called celebrities that most commercial pantomime producers seem to rely on.

In this production there are no "special guests", just a cast that can embody the panto personae that we have all learned to love over the years. What's more, they can hold a tune. There are a few tweaks to the original story: Jack is a known giant-tamer, and the evil villain of the piece is Squire Wrong ‘Un, played with appropriate melodrama by Anthony Topham.

The Squire runs a short-term loan company with exceptionally high interest rates. The songs are fabulous, with a mixture of traditional panto songs and updated pop songs. There is high energy from beginning to end, with plenty of audience participation throughout; more than enough to keep the kids involved.

You could sum up the whole feel of the production by the closing song of the first act. The writers are clearly a clever bunch, and have re-worded "Can you hear the people sing?" from "Les Misérables". The words fitted perfectly to the tune and still managed to create a sense of excitement and adventure that is often lost in pantomime.

The company came together and the harmonies they create give it the feel of a West End show. As it was a preview, there were a few slip-ups; however, the actors carry these mishaps off with aplomb, particularly Joseph Wicks, who shows his quick wit on numerous occasions with pithy retorts and comic moments.

This is a fantastic romp of a show. It has high energy throughout, dreamy dancing, fabulous singing and clever comedy. If all this occurs in a preview, then I can only imagine what fun the other performances will be!