Monday, 15 December 2008

Jack and the Beanstalk

Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage
5 December 2008

Is is good, oh yes it is?!

The Gordon Craig at Stevenage is renowned for its colourful and traditional pantos and Jack and the Beanstalk is no exception – it’s even got a genuinely funny script. I quite simply enjoyed it from beginning to end.

The legendary Paul Laidlaw, who plays Dame Trot, also directs and he has assembled an excellent cast to make the familiar story come alive. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again as he does it at Stevenage for about the 15th time - Paul Laidlaw is an absolutely fantastic dame. He knows exactly how to work an audience, is the perfect mix of comic turn and faded glamour and with the best legs in the business to boot, he can do no wrong!

In his first ever pantomime, David Spinx (Keith Miller in EastEnders) makes an excellent pantomime villain as Fleshcreep. In fact, he gets it just right – villainous enough to make you boo, but just a tad likeable as well so that his transformation is believable!

Ben Nicholas (Stingray in Neighbours) returns to Stevenage as Jack after his role as Buttons last year. He’s an extremely talented young chap – he sings and dances well and has good comedy skills. All in all he’s a very creditable hero!

Kate Burrell is charming as the slightly ditzy but feisty Fairy Sugar Snap, Paul Burling is excellent in the comedy role of Jack’s brother and his ability as an impressionist adds to the fun.
Completing the cast are the lovely Claire Huckle as Princess Tamara and the versatile Scott St Martyn as King Neil.

The audience always love local references, which of course this show included, but what they really enjoy are the jibes at neighbouring towns. Therefore the likening to the Giant’s land being a place that’s “desperate, desolate and dangerous”, just like Biggleswade, went down very well!
There are also lots of opportunities to shout out with cheering and booing a plenty. What I really liked though, was that instead of the usual song sheet before the final transformation scene, that usually entails four terrified looking kids being made fun of on the stage, Dame Trott and Billy led each side of the audience in a medley of snippets of popular sing along songs that everybody knew. The kids thing only works if you’ve got at least one hilarious child who hopefully doesn’t realise how funny he is and/or you are related to one of them! This way, by belting out tunes such as "Is this the Way to Amarillo?" and “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain”, we all had fun!

Best joke: Loads – but for me I loved: Jack: I’ve just been kissed by a fairy. Dame Trot: Welcome to showbusiness! Writer Paul Hendy also gets the absolute most out of the name of Princess Tamara such as “Will you marry Princess Tamara” – “No, I’ll marry her today” et al and ad infinitum


1.) David Spinx rendition of “I Predict a Riot”. He sang, he played the guitar and was surrounded by great dancers – this was real rock and roll and I loved it!

2.) Paul Burling’s impressions were really pretty good and his “supposed” 100 cartoon impressions in a minute was excellent – although there definitely weren’t 100. I won’t quibble though!

3.) Paul Laidlaw’s Dame.

Most importantly, Stevenage’s Jack and the Beanstalk is a real ensemble production where each actor makes sure this is one of the slickest and best panto productions around. So, is it good? Oh yes, it is!!

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