Jack and The Beanstalk

Thu 1st December 2011 – Sat 7th January 2012

reviews

Hannah Buckley

at 22:56 on 1st Dec 2011

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FEE FI FO FUM- Brian Blessed’s booming voice certainly got the audience’s attention off their light-up swords and onto the amazing stage as the play started. The scenery for the creepy castle was very convincing and set the scene well. It continued to do so throughout the play, especially of course the beanstalk.

The villainous character Fleshcreep, played by Neil Armstrong, clearly sets out the story’s plot. His evil panto character shines through, and its not long until the audience are booing after everything he’s said. The typical ‘oh no Im not... oh yes you are’ happened continuously, though it never got tiresome- indeed the kids in the audience loved it. Throughout the play Armstrong never failed to keep us entertained, with great improvisation when certain things didn’t go as planned, such as the dog refusing to move off stage, and keeping the play hilarious, such as the ‘wooing’ of Lucy D’Oolally scene. Lucy herself (played by Hayley Emma Otway) had great improvisation too, and interacted well with the audience.

Opposing the ‘baddy’ (what the seven year old in front of me kept referring to Fleshcreep as), we had the comedy duo of dim-witted Jack (played by Paul Hartley) and daft Jill (Jane Deane), back for their fourth year as a double act in the Gala theatre. One of my favourite scenes with them has to be the milking of Milkshake the cow - it just kept getting funnier and funnier. To help Jack and Jill was the lovely fairy Hazbean, played by Jane Holman. The special effects for her magic were not anything brilliant, but the fact she’s an old fairy and has ‘lost that touch’ explains this to an extent.

The Dame of the panto was Dame Shrivell, ‘Jack’s mam’. He/she was everything you expect from the panto Dame, though disappointingly at times not all the jokes and lines were clearly spoken. Mark Stratton however, who plays Baron D’Oolally, spoke very clearly, and it was a shame he wasn’t more on stage.

There was a lot of slapstick and childish humour, but there was a lot of adult humour as well. Constant innuendos and jokes about Spennymoor and Paddy’s taxis meant that the adults were laughing as much, and perhaps more, than the kids were. One of the funniest parts of the show (for which I was mostly bent over for) was the Twelve Days of Christmas song, which is not to be missed.

The dancers were absolutely superb, all from around 5 to late teens and bursting with energy. The choreography (done by Jane Moran) was very clever and well-thought out, for it incorporated the small ones' abilities whilst having more difficult dances for the older ones. The costumes for the dancers were absolutely superb, I particularly liked the ‘I think im going to marry you’ outfits. The cast’s costumes in fact had a great balance of the pantomime-ridiculousness and glamour; such as Dame Shrivell’s (played by Donald McBride) amazing collection of wigs and the dancer’s glitter numbers for the end.

The music is also worth noting to be fantastic. Simon Hanson and James McCutcheon had a great balance of background music, making audience members quiver in their seats as Brian Blessed ‘s voice came back through the speakers and keeping the panto going during Jack and Jill’s comic scenes. The live music, written and performed by Deborah Shaw alongside Carl Thomson, was great as well. I particularly like the thriller music mix. It was a shame though that as soon as the music kicked in, the singers could not be heard, for the mikes needed to be turned up. However, this improved at the end of the play. The technical team as a whole however were very good, the lighting was always superb and the sound effects were brilliant.

The reaction of the audience really said it all for me during the performance, everyone loved every minute. Jack and the beanstalk is just as entertaining for adults as it is for children. Though there were some blips, at the end of the day it was a pantomime and the laughter that came through made these seem trivial. It is a great way to start the Christmas season and I’d thoroughly recommend going, whether its a group of late teens or with the parents.

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Julie Fisher

at 23:26 on 1st Dec 2011

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Nothing gets you in the Christmas spirit quite like a trip to the pantomime. It’s one of those Christmas traditions which I keep expecting to grow out of, but never quite manage to let go. And, if the offerings continue to be as good as the Gala Theatre’s production of 'Jack and the Beanstalk', nor do I want to.

Written and directed by Simon Stallworthy, the show combined all of the traditional pantomime elements; such as cheesy lines, a dame with a rather unique fashion sense, and the inevitable scene in which characters are spirited away (pun intended) by ghosts, with a strong North-Eastern touch. Having only seen pantomimes in the South before, I was perhaps unduly amused by Dame Shrivell’s (Donald McBride) near-constant exclamations of “Eee!”, and pleased that I have now been in Durham long enough to understand the derogative references to Spennymoor. The Cathedral bus and Paddy’s taxis also received special mentions, helping to keep the production relevant to the audience.

Interaction with the audience was frequent, even more so than I would normally expect from a pantomime, with the actors picking out their favourites from the front row early on and continuing to converse with them throughout the performance. One mortified woman even ended up with the villain in her lap, an event which those surrounding her seemed to enjoy much more than she did. But the audience in general were not shy to show their enjoyment of the show, shouting, booing, and even spontaneously clapping along as Fairy Hazbean (Jane Holman) performed a solo of 'Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head'.

Although Holman performed admirably as the aging fairy, it was the aforementioned villain, Fleshcreep (Neil Armstrong) who really stole the show. Having performed in pantomimes annually since 1987, and in the Gala itself for the past four years, he was clearly comfortable in the role, firing out innuendos, responding to catcalls from the audience, and demonstrating his dancing ‘talent’ for Fleshcreep’s Dance of Love. However, to single him out as an individual is not to trivialise the roles of the other cast members, who are all deserving of praise for their efforts. Paul Hartley and Jane Deane, also returning to the Gala for the fourth year running, dazzled as the hilariously incompetent Jack and Jill, and Donald McBride was the perfect panto dame. Those in more minor roles also threw themselves into the performance with gusto, and there were some excellent dance routines to complement the acting.

One point on which the show sometimes fell short was the singing, which, although pleasant enough to listen to, did not have quite the same sparkle as the rest of the production. In fact, the most memorable song of the night was 'The Twelve Days of Christmas', butchered to great effect by Jack and Jill, who slid about the stage tripping over their own props. However, Musical Directors Simon Hanson and Deborah Shaw had put together a fine selection of pieces, including a rendition of 'I’ll Be There For You' with added mooing from Milkshake the Cow (Jonathan Mawson and Marc McFadyen). The animal characters (as well as Milkshake there was Gordon the Hen, played by Stacy Beetham) are important to Jack and the Beanstalk and in this production there was one extra, in the form of a slightly traumatised-looking dog, intended to be fed to the giant but rescued by Fairy Hazbean to keep the children in the audience (and perhaps some of the adults too) from having nightmares.

The set design added to the magic of the production, with beautifully painted backdrops, and a beanstalk which really fell from the sky (well, alright, it folded down, but it would have fooled me as a child), and the use of lighting was superb. Lighting Designers Jim Sobo and Graham Rushton used different coloured light to convey different moods, and blue and green lights flashed every time Fleshcreep stepped out onto the stage.

All in all, my evening at the Gala flew by, and I would highly recommend 'Jack and the Beanstalk' to anyone in need of a little Christmas cheer.

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