Thursday, 31 December 2020

REVIEW: Jack and the Beanstalk at the Belgrade, Coventry (Online)

The challenge this year is how to pick which of the eighty online Pantomimes to purchase and watch as there are a wide range of titles and approaches to the new medium. One way is to go to the biggest producers of a normal year and select their offering and you can't go far wrong with Imagine Theatre who usually produce 14 shows each season. Their version of Jack and the Beanstalk sticks to the traditional storyline but innovates and plays with the medium to brilliant effect. 

It starts in an empty venue where two veterans of Imagine shows sit on the edge of a bare stage staring into the deserted auditorium and sadly discussing the absence of live shows. Craig Hollingsworth suggests doing an online stream to a bemused Iain Lauchlan. But as a writer, director and Performer, Lauchlan rises to the challenges to deliver a very clever up to date script and plays multiple roles. He plays the Fairy Fluff, Giant Blunderbus and Dame Trot, all in very good costumes and changing with some whizzy editing! Hollingsworth also has multi roles as King Cuthbert, Fleshcreep, and Simon Trott which means effectively one of the two is on stage most of the time to drive the storytelling along at a good pace. 

The result looks and sounds very good and much better than many other of the online offerings. Director of Photography, Heath McWaters, Sound designer Chris Mock, designer Mark Walters and Editor Andy Ward have done a very good job editing the show together, making the most of the required changes of characters for the two leads and using some smart graphics for some scenes and effects. 

The script includes several very well executed classic Pantomime routines. The traditional cow-milking scene (this time with a two metered cow so both front and rear end are socially distanced), a kitchen slosh scene (which Imagine always do well ) and of course the Ghost bench scene using an SFX app to add audience reaction. In addition they cleverly update the 12 days of Christmas into the twelve days of lockdown with plenty of good new Covid gags for 5 toilet rolls and 7 months of furlough and neatly choreographed on a socially distanced way! They finally defeat Fleshcreep with PPN, a Perfectly Positioned Net as well as a neat idea of a pause button on the video stream. All of these updates on the normal pantomime business are cleverly updated for the streamed version. 

The two leads are very well supported by Morna Macpherson as a traditional principal Jack, (a tradition that is sadly less often seen these days), Anna Li as the Princess and Trish Adudu as Mrs Blunderbus, as well a young ensemble of eight who provide a bright opening to the scene in the village Prickly Bottom in Rainbow cloudland where the R number is rising ... the Rubbish number. The music is generally second place to the comedy business. Indeed when the Princess starts a power ballad she is edited out to keep the running time down! 

Many online streams have struggled to adapt to the medium and absence of audience reaction seems to undermine the cast but Imagine Theatre have imaginatively adapted their usual style Pantomime, found solutions to the lack of response and produced a very enjoyable, well-produced show that is definitely worth streaming. It is available until 31st December.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Online | Price of Ticket: £16
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