JACK AND THE BEANSTALK
in Blackmore Village Hall
Back to the traditional canon for this year's panto, directed by Rosemarie Nelson with Shirley Parrott the Musical Director.
Ben Crocker's uninspired script does have one or two original touches: Edena the eco-fairy [Barbara Harrold] pitted against the pollutant villain Slimeball [James Hughes] seemed promising, but was not really developed.
All the familiar characters were included: a proper principal boy - Amy Pudney as Jack from the dairy, handling her songs with style – a beautiful princess [Sarah Tayler], and Giant Blunderbore, Chet Atkins fan, played by Alf Currey, who managed to cut an imposing figure despite not exactly towering over the mere mortals. His voice helped, although off-stage it needed more bass rumble and less megaphone.
Dame Madonna Trot was in the experienced hands of Keith Goody, sporting fistfuls of finger rings, a beauty spot and a Marge Simpson hairdo. King Bertram was Martin Herford, bringing a touch of Clive Dunn to the hapless monarch. When it comes to pantomime cows, the Animal Farm dictum “Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad” has much to commend it; nonetheless, Rebecca Smith gave a lively, engaging performance, including the Happy Feet tap-dance, one of many excellent production numbers. The Cockroach rap was an inspired idea, but it would have been good to be able to hear more of the words.
No microphones here – well done – and the cast generally managed to rise above the drum-kit and the bawling babies. Two performers in particular caught the spirit of pantomime to perfection: the aforementioned James Hughes, relishing the lusty boos from the audience, giving a polished performance of laid-back villainy. And Craig Stevens superb as Simple Simon the Cowman; a nicely judged character [“Be brave, Simon!”, we shouted]. He coped magnificently with the kids from the audience, coaxed up for the front cloth number before the finale – a dying art, these days. And his delivery of the venerable “ghoulies” joke quite rightly got a round of applause. This preceded the equally venerable ghost routine, always a favourite, and vociferously enjoyed here [to the tune of Dancing Queen], though in a traditional panto I should prefer the Dame left till last to scare off the ghost.
Lots of lovely songs – Good Morning Merrymore, Glad All Over, I'm A Believer, Holiday Rock [shades of Paul Shane and the Yellowcoats] – and the chorus were well used, not least in the Country Folk running gag.
Blackmore are famous for the community vibe of their panto, and this matinée was warmly received by an enthusiastic crowd. The pace could have been a little more positive, with a tighter focus from some characters. The strobe lighting didn't really add anything, and the edges of the stage were seriously underlit. The race commentary needed much more work to be a reasonable substitute for the fall of Blunberbore, but the quintet of singing sheep over the partition was inspired – a five-baa gate, as Simple Simon might have said ...