Wednesday, 12 December 2018

REVIEW: Jack and the Beanstalk at the Watford Palace

Andrew Pollard has established himself a very creative and innovative writer of pantomimes breathing fresh ideas in the familiar tales. Last year's Watford Palace Pantomime Aladdin was set in Norway and this year's Jack in the Beanstalk is set in Switzerland - even the flag is a big plus. This simple devise provides a springboard to reinventing the traditional story and introduce new twists and jokes. Jack(Oliver Longstaff) has arrived in the village of Tob-Le-Rone in answer to an advert from the Burgher Herr Brush (Walter Van Dyk) for a giant Sleigh driver but has misread the requirement for a Giant slayer. The Giant lives at the top of the mountain, stops it snowing and can be only reached by a cable car he controls. It provides a logic to the story and enables the Fairy (Charlotte Clitherow) to call for audience to yodel and the Burgher to warn the audience to "not blow the horn, leave the horn alone". It is a clever witty premise, however not everything that follows quite lives up to the set up.

The sets designed by Cleo Pettitt are colourful cartoons of Swiss landscape with signs to the swizz banks, a moving cable car and Swiss Chalet. The costumes are also very good especially the purpose made Dame's outfits including a cuckoo clock bra, an airplane, a Swiss Army knife and a good costume gag about painting the town red. The Beanstalk when it grows to enable Jack to bypass the Cable car is set too far upstage left to be fully visible and the Giant lair is rather simple suggesting the limits of the budgets had been reached!

Of course one of the key features of these regional in house pantomimes is the core team who deliver the show to a consistent level each year. Its Pollard's 8th year as writer and Pollett's 10th year as designer. It is also Terence Frisch's 8th time as Dame at the theatre and Jill McAusland's 7th year there, this time as the evil Nightshade looking like a mini Hagrid. However it is Miiya Alexandra as the headstrong love interest Liesel and Marc Zayat in his professional debut as MooMoo the non-binary cow that stand out with their energy and singing. MooMoo is a cow with attitude and does a funny Honey G style rap and leads the flossing. 

When the Giant appears, played by Charlotte Clitherow doubling up, it is a bit of anticlimax as the excellent huge furry costume seems rather too large for her to handle and he looks sad rather than fearsome, like the slightest touch would make him fall over! 

All the usual pantomime elements are still there, the Bench scene, the Sausages
game and the Mirror routine, all performed as you would expect by an experienced Dame and demonstrating that despite innovation and new ideas, certain pantomime elements work every year without changes! Hovered the absence of any Ensemble, juvenile or otherwise, does leave a lot for the cast of seven principals to do to carry the show that runs to over two hours.

The music is a familiar mix of pop songs including two songs that are going to be standards of pantomime this year, This is Me from the Greatest Showman and Baby Shark. The Band of three just visible through the rear cloth on a raised platform under MD Mark Warman are at times too loud for the singers to come across clearly but provide a lively accompaniment.

This is a good pantomime that will be enjoyed by the local community but had the potential to be even better with more investment in another principal, a small ensemble and a litre bit more invention when we get to the top of the mountain.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★

Seat: Rear stalls | Price of Ticket: £18
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