Forget us critics, for a true barometer of a productions success you should always watch the reactions of the children in the audience. At 10.15am on a chilly Wednesday morning the Marina Theatre Lowestoft is full of expectant faces of school children as the Jack And The Beanstalk company give their all at a frankly unsociable hour to be in a theatre.
With a flash and a bang, Fairy Organic appears to tell us all is not well in Sunnyvale. While young Jack is madly in love with Princess Amelia the King is unlikely to let her marry a poor peasant. The king has other things on his mind though with a terrible giant terrorising his kingdom and Jack’s mother, Dame Trott, lusting after his Majesty.
The story is of course familiar but Keith Simmons and Paul Holman’s script treats the well trod tale with a lightness of touch, keeping the key elements but allowing plenty of room for the requisite panto slapstick. After Jack is forced to sell the family cow, events are put in place for a confrontation with the giant and an outcome that will change everyone’s future.
Despite the earliness of the hour the company don’t hold back with their performance. While some of the more adult jokes may escape the younger audience they are still delivered with total conviction.
Sue Hodge’s fairy is a modern, environmentally-friendly sprite, no gossamer wings here, just a witty repartee and a quick put down. While Hodge’s ‘Allo ‘Allo pedigree may have evaded many of the youngsters, it doesn’t stop them cheering in all the right places. The same problem faces Bobby Crush as the outlandish Dame Trott, the piano maestro may be unfamiliar to the children but the comedy delivery overcomes and recognition issues. Crush thrills in a variety of increasingly over the top fashion creations and for older members of the audience shows that he can still tickle the ivories. Despite valiantly battling a cold, this is a delightful dame.
More easily recognisable for younger viewers, Hi-5’s Chris Edgerley gives a charming Jack, singing beautifully and sharing a real chemistry with Sophie Bloom’s Princess Amelia.
There is also an engaging Simple Simon from Adam Kelly, make his pitch for most impressive panto entrance of the season as he arrives on stage unicycling and juggling cats. Demonstrating a real flare for magic and comic timing, Kelly instantly warms to the young audience, bringing them onside and knowing just when to push the interactive button.
Debbie Flitcroft’s production does occasionally lose pace in scene transitions and could benefit from a few minutes being trimmed off its running time but, overall, the production impresses. This is a traditional pantomime that serves as a good introduction to the genre for a new generation. A talking toucan, plenty of slapstick, audience participation, song and dance ensure everyone leaves with a smile – well perhaps apart from those soaked by Dame Trott’s supersoaker (she has a good aim for critics!) and the poor picked on teacher (as Woods Loke Primary School’s Mr Graham will surely attest).
It may not be the largest or most lavish panto in the land but what Jack And The Beanstalk lacks in size it more than adds up for with enthusiasm, energy and charm. And what about that young critical audience? Judging by the sheer volume of cheers, boos and hissing and the rapt attention this panto is just the beans.
Review originally written for The Public Reviews