Sunday, 13 December 2015

Review 2: StageTalk

JACK AND THE BEANSTALK at Bath Theatre Royal

Jack and the Beanstalk - Sarah Louise Day, Nigel Havers and Jon Monie with Ensemble - Photo credit Anna Barclay

Casting one’s eye over the seasonal theatrical fare, one is struck by the range of offerings brought to market. There is, in the much-used promotional phrase, ‘something for everyone’: new stuff, old stuff, kids’ stuff, family stuff and adult stuff. Moreover much of it compares favorably in price to pints of ale and boxed sets. So there is no excuse for not going out and mixing with a lot of other people, in a nice cosy theatre and having the kind of experience that (a little) money can buy, but which television can never provide.

Furthermore, if one can extrapolate from an Oxford University study published today, showing that early contact with poetry, books, numbers and the like has a lasting beneficial effect on pre-schoolers as they progress through the education system, then we could expect that early contact with live theatre will have a similar effect on, if nothing else, at least their perception that going to the theatre is something ordinary people do. (Of course you and I knew that all along) It’s called, ‘being part of the culture’, as much as going to a football or rugby match on a Saturday afternoon or watching a soap and it’s fun with side benefits.

With this in mind you could argue that it is the duty of pantomimes (and family Christmas shows generally) to be as good as they possibly can so that parents are attracted and children are hooked – for life. Whilst this reviewer hasn’t seen all that is on offer regionally – honours are shared with StageTalk colleagues – what I have seen falls into the category of ‘very good’ or better and Jack and the Beanstalk is no exception.

Panto scripts are often a bit thin on first reading and it is not until the actors and director get their teeth into them that they come alive. The cast of Jack and the Beanstalk fulfill the promise they showed on paper. Nigel Havers, who leads, gives the impression of having far more fun than a working chap has any right to. If you didn’t know it was him, you might think the part of Fleshcreep was being played by a beastly half-brother. In the best panto tradition he relishes being Mr. Nasty whilst staying on the artistic side of ‘hamming it up’, but with enough oleaginous malevolence to provoke spontaneous ‘boos’ and hisses.

Equally at home in the panto style is Nick Wilton as Dame Trott. Mr. Wilton has that welcome ability to make you feel comfortable and that you are in good hands. Not for him a dame as a man in drag, but a broad character, albeit with a dubious taste in men and bright frocks. He has learned the lesson, which generally comes from experience, that you don’t have to deliver every line as if it were a punchline and that a throwaway can sometimes be funnier. His is a dame in the best tradition and it is perhaps no coincidence that some of the funnier moments are his interchanges with Fleshcreep.
Jon Monie and Katy Ashworth are equally experienced and have an easy relationship with the audience as Fairy and Simple Simon – Mr Monie in particular with the young members of the audience who were brought onto the stage when he manages to get a few laughs without anything even their parents could object to. With a couple of bright ‘juve leads’ in Sarah Louise Day and David Barrett and a likeable King in David Alcock the excellent company breathes life into the familiar characters.

This is a pantomime, which delivers in talent and spectacle with colourful sets and exuberant dance numbers to provide a sparkling seasonal treat. With its excellent sister houses in the Egg and Ustinov the Theatre Royal is uniquely placed to follow up on what will be for many young people their first taste of live theatre and on last night’s showing, one they will want to repeat.    

★★★★☆     Graham Wyles     12th December 2015

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