Cut to the Chase at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch
One of the joys of the Great Traditional British Panto is the pleasure of recognition, familiar friends encountered afresh. And I don't just mean the ghost routine, and milking the cow, and the wallpaper messy scene, though happily all of those are in place at Hornchurch this year. But for those theatres fortunate enough to sustain a resident repertory company, it's the delight of watching actors we've seen through the year letting their hair down in front of a house of screaming kids, high on sweets and fizzy drinks.
Though it's not easy to recognize Simon Jessop, who's Hornchurch's dame this year, under a formidable layer of warpaint, and trussed up in an increasingly fantastical succession of frocks. A paintbrush, a meadow, a candelabra, a cheeky toad in the hole, and a wedding bell amongst others. He gives a shamelessly traditional schtick, with the odd blue note, and keeps the show moving along nicely.
Nicholas Pegg's Jack and the Beanstalk, directed by Matt Devitt, is a pretty traditional affair altogether, with only the occasional reference to popular culture, Downton or Gangnam, to remind us that rationing is over. Dick Emery, Hilda Baker, Terry Scott, even Old Mother Riley, could have stepped into the panto shoes of performers here without having to pause for thought.
So we had sweets thrown out into the audience ["Don't sue me if it takes your eye out …"], a singalong before the wedding, and name-checks from the giant guest book ["3rd Upminster Beavers"]. But also a ker-ching moment for each of the show's local sponsors, and a plug for next year's Treasure Island.
Not surprising, perhaps, that the older performers are amongst the most impressive this year. Allison Harding is excellent both as the twinkly old lady who tells the tale, and a feisty Northern Mrs Thunderskull the Giant's wife, while James Earl Adair adds another baddie to his repertoire, effortlessly rousing the rabble against his fiendish Fleshcreep. Both beautifully spoken, too.
Natasha Moore, always a favourite, is a charming Jill, though she has a feminist moment at the end, with Alison Thea-Skot as her thigh-slapping Jack. Simple Simon is an instantly likeable Mark Newnham, and Sean Needham gives a copybook Mr Bumble, not a beadle here, but Jill's bluff old dad.
Billy Irving and Samuel Ward-Smith are Buttercup, plus, respectively, the Giant and Minerva the golden egg chicken.
Cut to the Chase, resident company at the Queen's, are joined as ever by three teams of youngsters, given an ambitious routine of their own in Cloudland by choreographer Donna Berlin.
Carol Sloman provides original songs in several genres, including the statutory love duet, a rousing anthem ["Climb"] just before the Act One curtain, and Let's Get Personal for Bumble and Dame Trott; Greg Last – invisible in the depths of the pit – is the Musical Director.
The costumes and the set are sumptuously designed by Mark Walters – dripping with sparkle, and pretty as a picture-book, especially the land above the clouds, the Giant's kitchen and the windmill's rustic interior. Lots of clever touches, too, like the huge duelling utensils, the pinball pudding, the beanstalk itself, huge and pneumatically sinister, and, charmingly old-fashioned ombres chinoises for the prologue and the escape from Castle Thunderskull.
production photos by Nobby Clark
production photos by Nobby Clark