Thursday, 3 December 2020

REVIEW: Jack and the Beanstalk by Jack be Nimble in association with Everyman cinemas

2020 will be a year to remember for all the wrong reasons and the chaos for Theatre Producers in planning and staging plays will be most keenly felt this Christmas with the cancellation of so many Pantomimes. The usual family outing to a theatre to see this traditional entertainment with its familiar comedy business, audience interaction and mixture of silly jokes and adult innuendo has for many been postponed until 2021. However, one brave Producer, Scriptwriter and Dame, Peter Duncan has boldly recorded a show in his back garden to entertain us online, or in selected Tier 2 cinemas, and for that he deserves our appreciation, applause, and thanks. 

Duncan plays Dame Trot the central character and sticks to the familiar story structure including many well-worn pantomime gags and routines all aimed mainly at the younger audience with only one adult innuendo when a Beanstalk pops up overnight the Dame remarks “Reminds me of my first husband!”. He provides the charming context of the setting by imagining the show is in the mind of a young girl looking at a pop-up book of the story in front of an open fire and then sets it all in the garden of his and his neighbours house. Fortunately, he has a very grand looking house and extensive garden setting with the shed doubling as Dame Trot’s cottage. He retains all the encouragement for the audience to shout out responses at the screen which adds irony to the traditional villain’s response “I can’t hear you”!

There is good comedy business with Dame Trot, Jack (Sam Ebeneezer), and Buttercup (a rather short chubby legged brown cow) at the Milking Emporium with gags about “horns not working”, Freez-ians and past-you-eyes milk. Followed by a silly slapstick scene with Jack, Dame, and the Squire (Ian Talbot) and buckets of slosh. The evil steampunk Fleshcreepy (Jos Vantyler) has lots of fun in the garden showing off in multiple disguises and accents while his evil behaviour never becomes scary or really threatening, even when he carries off Jill (Sarah Moss) over his shoulder. There is good support from Nicola Blackman as a Barbadian Garden Fairy.

The best sequence of the one-hour twenty-minute show which makes the most of the delivery platform is the accent to Cloudland. Jack climbs a conveniently placed rope ladder up the tree like Beanstalk, but Dame Trot is lifted aloft by Balloons leading to a very good CGI sequence over London, under the sea and into space. The “hands, face, space” gag is particularly appropriate and well-judged! Indeed, Covid Lockdown jokes are sprinkled throughout without being overly done. On arrival in the Giant’s lair we meet Blunderbore (Yuval Shvartsman) in an excellent ten-foot-tall one-eyed plastic Giant costume with a working claw.

There is a mixed selection of music with the best numbers being rewritten versions of Bing Crosby classic “Carolina in the Morning” and the welsh anthem “I vow to thee my country”. The traditional Act 2 routine “if I was not in pantomime” is redone again with excellent costume props but the interaction between each character as they repeat their verses does not carry the usual visual jeopardy and rehearsed spontaneity of the usual stage versions. Equally the final song sheet “Why does a brown cow give white milk when she only eats green grass” misses the charm of young kids from the audience and the banter with them.

The budgetary limitations of the production are plain to see with some fairly ropey old painted sets and washed-out colour as they seem to rely overly on the natural daylight without a few well-placed lights to add to the tonal contrast. But these are easily forgiven for the joy of straightforward pantomime storytelling and comic business and the fact that these performers are at least working. As Fleshcreepy says when asked why he is dressed as Captain Hook, “if not I would be looking for a job like everyone else”. Watch out too for the action replay of Jill collecting the golden hen which was presumably missed in the edit!

The end result is silly, fun, and entertaining without the production values of a full-blown stage show but nevertheless an enjoyable attempt to bring joy and laughter into family homes this Christmas. Performed by an energetic and enthusiastic cast with a very clear audio, the production works and with a bit of luck and our support will raise money for six charities and youth projects including the scouts where Duncan was previously Chief Scout. As well it reminds the young audience of the need to save the planet with its green message woven throughout the show.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★

Blog Design by pipdig