It’s December and for most theatres, that means one thing. For the next six weeks or so, they will be opening their doors twice a day, six days a week to let hordes of happy children – along with some adults – come and experience the magic of live theatre. Yes, its pantomime season and I was lucky enough to get a trip to the New Wimbledon Theatre for the opening of their festive offering Jack and the Beanstalk.
The basic story is that Giant Blunderbore is causing havoc by raising the rent in a small village and driving the villagers into poverty. Life is so bad that Dame Trott (Clive Rowe) is going to have to sell her cow to try and make ends meet and support her two sons, Jack (Liam Tamne) and Barman Al (Al Murray). Jack is upset about selling the cow but he is also distracted as he has met and fallen in love with the beautiful Princess Apricot (Charlotte Gooch). Unfortunately, the princess has also been spotted and lusted after by the giant’s evil henchman Fleshcreep (John Jack) who has taken her and Dame Trott’s cow, off to Cloudland where Giant Blunderbore lives. With the help of his family and the Spirit of the Beans (Robyn Mellor) Jack sets off on his quest to rescue Apricot, the cow and the village from the grip of the evil giant.
Sometimes you know from the off that things are going to be good with a show and, as I was handed my 3D glasses for Act 2II, I got positive feelings about the production straight away. I’ve done a lot of things in a theatre before but never been asked to put on an extra pair of glasses. So this was obviously not going to be an ordinary show. And it wasn’t. Jack and the Beanstalk is about as perfect an example of the pantomime genre as it is possible to get. I’ll be honest, I did wonder if Al Murray was going to be able to bring his Pub Landlord character down so that it is accessible and suitable for the younger element but still retain the same facets that make the character so memorable to adults. Well, he really pulled it off in spectacular style and both child and adult responded well to the cheeky chap character who could still get away with saying “Pint for the fella… Glass of white wine/ fruit-based drink for the lady!” or “if we had no rules where would we be? France! And if we had too many rules where would we be? Germany!” and not offending anyone. Clive Rowe was everything a pantomime dame should be. Horrendous make-up, over the top dresses and a completely OTT performance. Putting Al and Clive together on stage was a spark of genius as they really work as a double act. Outrageously trying to make each other corpse and delivering some of the worst puns in the history of Christmas cracker jokes, this is a pairing that just works beautifully.
Having two such huge personalities on stage means that the rest of the cast occasionally seem overwhelmed but, to be honest, they all did a fantastic job, obviously having a grand old time with the songs, dances, telling the actual story. John Jack made a suitably nasty villain with a really evil laugh earning him a well-deserved shout of ‘Boo’ whenever he appeared. Robyn Mellor was saccharine sweet as the Spirit of the Beans, nicely explaining why she couldn’t really help so left all the hard work to Jack, Liam Tamne’s Jack was just right as the young, handsome hero – although what happened to the Principle Boy role being played by a female actor – and his pairing with Charlotte Gooch as Apricot was really sweet.
It’s been a while since I have seen an ‘out of town’ pantomime and I wasn’t too sure what to expect. However, Qdos Entertainment, the world’s biggest pantomime producer, really know their business and in terms of scenery and costumes, Jack and the Beanstalk is West End standard. At around two and a half hours director Thom Southerland has a lot to get in – the story and the ad-libs of Clive and Al – and he does but without the performance ever feeling rushed. There are some magical touches in the production which, without giving any of the real secrets away, actually has me gasping with surprise at one point near the end of Act I. Do you need the 3D glasses, you may ask. Oh yes, you do, I reply. The 3D effects when they come are truly awesome and had the audience – child and adult alike – shrieking with shock and pleasure.
Without beating around the bush, Jack and the Beanstalk is a perfect pantomime from start to finish. All the traditional elements are there along with some wonderfully innovative moments that take the breath away. The humour is pitched just right for the age range of the audience. There is plenty of audience participation and ultimately, Jack and the Beanstalk is pantomime at its most awesome.
Review by Terry Eastham
Fe-fi-fo-fum, a giant of a pantomime comes to Wimbledon!
Follow Jack, his hapless brother, his mother Dame Trot and climb a beanstalk of gigantic proportions to cloudland in the spectacular family pantomime. Doomed to sell his trusty cow, join Jack as he fights to save the beautiful Princess, outwit the evil giant and win riches beyond his wildest dreams, and the hand of the girl he loves.
Brought to you by Qdos Entertainment, the world’s biggest pantomime producer, Jack and the Beanstalk features all of the ingredients of a perfect pantomime; a fabulous cast and orchestra, laugh-out-loud comedy, magic beans, bundles of audience participation, stunning scenery and special effects, beautiful costumes and plenty of boos and hisses for all the family to enjoy.
IDLE AL Al Murray
DAME TROT Clive Rowe
JACK Liam Tamne
FLESHCREEP John Jack
PRINCESS Charlotte Gooch
SPIRIT OF THE BEANS Robyn Mellor
UNDERSTUDY AL MURRAY Barry Hester
AS CAST / UNDERSTUDY AS REQUIRED Jessica Oakman
AS CAST / UNDERSTUDY AS REQUIRED Taylor Bruce
AS CAST / UNDERSTUDY AS REQUIRED Ross Russell
AS CAST / UNDERSTUDY AS REQUIRED Pamela Blair
AS CAST / UNDERSTUDY AS REQUIRED Gareth Moran
AS CAST / UNDERSTUDY AS REQUIRED Emilie Chard
AS CAST / UNDERSTUDY AS REQUIRED Christopher Ribz-Gordon
AS CAST / UNDERSTUDY AS REQUIRED Bronte Lavine
JUVENILES South London Dance School
DIRECTOR – Thom Southerland
CHOREOGRAPHER – Matt Flint
MUSICAL DIRECTOR / KEYS 1 – Barry Robinson
COMPANY STAGE MANAGER – Martin Hope
DEPUTY STAGE MANAGER – Helen Clarkson
TECHNICAL ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER – Abbie Procter
ASM BOOKCOVER – Laura Osei-Bonsu
DRUMS / PERCUSSION – Mike Osborn
TENOR SAX / FLUTE – Nick Smith
TRUMPET / FLUGEL HORN – Giles Straw
BASS GUITAR Kevin Powell
WARDROBE MISTRESS – Catherine Pilsworth
WARDROBE ASSISTANT – Emily Varnam
EXEC PRODUCER – – Michael Harrison
MUSICAL SUPERVISOR – Gary Hind
WRITER – Alan McHugh
Jack and the Beanstalk
New Wimbledon Theatre
Booking to 14th January 2018
You may be interested in Jack and the Beanstalk – The Real Story [DVD] (this is not related to this pantomime)