Thursday, 11 January 2018

PANTOMIME REVIEW: Jack and the Beanstalk at the Theatre Royal York


As many pantomimes around the country close after their Christmas runs there is one that is still only halfway through its 76 show run and which is a unique tribute to this wonderful theatrical genre.Berwick Kaler has been writing , directing and playing Dame for 39 years and his experience and mastery of pantomime is clear from the start. This is a production firmly rooted in its own tradition and in its Yorkshire home and coming up from the south east to see it feels a bit like a interloper at some huge in joke which the rest of the local audience are in on. The core of the cast are regulars to Theatre Royal Pantomime and have performed together for years as we are often reminded of during the show. The fact that Kaler had a triple heart by pass in 2017 and his straight man Martin Barrass missed last years following a motorbike accident that nearly killed him adds a strong emotional connection to the affection the audience holds these two and their annual traditional outing. The audience itself is older than any other pantomime audience this season with hardly a child in sight, they have clearly grown up together.

The show is in sharp contrast to York's other pantomime offering at the Grand Opera House where Beauty and the Beast is a TV celebrity lead show with Debbie McGee (Strictly come dancing) Lynne McGranger (Home and away), Anthony Costa (Blue) and Ken Morley (Coronation street) and sticks to the traditional story telling approach, although this version feels a bit more like Cinderella than Beauty! 

It is clear that the Theatre Royal show has evolved over a long period and developed its own unique style which is firmly based on 1950's and 1960's heritage. There is a strong feel of Arthur Askey or Old Mother Riley about Kaler's Mandy Manley, a dame without makeup and a simple old wig but there is no doubt that he is "in charge", at times almost directing the cast from the stage as they go! He has a natural charm and stage persona and although you can sense he is holding back at times following his operation, he is a constant presence. His interactions with Barrass as his son Stanley, a lively Suzy Cooper as Jill and with the audience generally are just what the doctor ordered and the audience love him for it.

The best performer is David Leonard as the villainous Dr McCarb, another Theatre Royal Pantomime veteran who makes a spectacular first entrance. He is wonderfully evil with a marvellous expressive face and eyes that create fits of giggles at every appearance and does a wonderfully camp rendition of Wild Thing with Jill. He also has a delightful scene with the young people team dressed as vegetables.

The first act has two excellent set pieces as first the Dame's cottage is opened to reveal a beautifully detailed interior including a puppet chicken that did not even get referred to for the Auf Wiedersehen Pat routine and then later we visit the extraordinary Shed for a traditional slosh scene. Both scenes are Kaler and Barrass's scenes and they gently deliver their comic business with natural ease.

The second half set entirely in LaLa land is a wild fantasy which takes its comic references from the sixties and seventies with original Star Wars characters including the Babes dress as Ewoks, Jill as Princess Leia and Luke Adamson who plays Eustace as Darth Vader, then Sonny and Cher and Karen Carpenter impressions and finally the Adams Family. There is an excellent large scale Giant although Jack (A J Powell ) never actually fights him! 

This production is a celebration of pantomime with a clear self identity, a cast who work wonderfully together and whose experience, developed over so many years together, shines through. It is a shared experience with the audience not just of the current show but for many of the shows that have gone before. Long may it continue to reign supreme in Yorkshire.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★
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