the rock ‘n’ roll panto
By Peter Rowe and Alan Ellis
The New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich
“Hello, Dolly!” we dutifully yelled, happy to humour the larger-than-life man in a frock.
This time it's Jack and the Beanstalk at the Wolsey in Ipswich, done in their unique rock'n'roll style, with limited forces but unlimited panache. There were beanstalks either side the theatre door, tendrils round the tea-bar, and a lovely set [Mark Walters, who also designed the costumes], with diminishing arches, folding flaps to change the scene, and most of the space for the band and the cabaret-style choreography.
No kids on stage, but muppetish livestock chorus. No sing-song, but hand-clapping, foot-stomping, toe-tapping rock classics, and a chance to bop in the aisles after the final walk-down.
A phenomenal team of ten to play all the parts, and all the instruments too. Shirley Darroch was excellent as ever as the saucy sprite, Fairy Aubergine, who told us the plot, in rhyme, at the top and the tail of the show and waved her magic leek to ensure that virtue was triumphant. Sean Kingsley was Fleshcreep, her deadly rival, whooshing up from the stage left trap, gleefully wicked, with an amazing athletic number to establish his evil credentials.
The Dame, pointing his gags with a deadly delivery and keeping up a constant commentary, was a tour-de-force from Will Kenning. He managed to bring a breezy, Pythonesque freshness to the role, whilst respecting most of the traditions. Most of his time in the spotlight came at the start; after a particularly punishing routine, he was straight over to join Fleshcreep on keyboards – he also played a mean trombone in the Giant's backing band.
That's the USP of these Wolsey shows – the actor/musicians move democratically from solo to backing, vocal to sax, at the drop of a hat, exemplified in the It Takes Two finale. Liz Singleton, in her first ever panto, [she graduated from the Guildhall this year] as Jill, with David Hunter [ex Manchester band 'Reemer'] as her Jack – duetted in front, with the other eight all on instruments behind them.
When it's done as well as this, it seems the only way to tackle panto in a recession – if it catches on there'll be pits closing all over the country...
The musical numbers were all carefully chosen, and belted out with unflagging energy [MD was Ben Goddard]. We Will Rock You for Adebayo Bolaji's glam rock Giant, and my favourite, Always Something There To Remind Me, as the Durdens bid farewell to their incontinent cow – plenty of poo jokes in this script from Alan Ellis and director Peter Rowe ! Bessie the Cow was outstanding, as was Nicola Bryan's powerhouse performance as Gemima, the Giant's tiny wife. Kenny Davies made an engaging Silly Billy Bungalow, and the posh Squire Snuffbox was a tireless Harry Myers. Jared Ashe, axe-man extraordinaire, completed a brilliant company.
The audience loved every rocking minute, the dancing beanstalk, the platform shoes, the silly wigs. Amongst the critics and the celebrities, if Dame Dolly's guest list is gospel, Javier and David all the way from Pamplona. And Michael, from Stowmarket, who foolishly chose a front row seat where he caught Kenning's eagle eye for a stooge ...this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews
photograph: Mike Kwasniak
photograph: Mike Kwasniak