Monday, 20 December 2021

REVIEW: Jack and the Beanstalk at the Camberley Theatre

All around the country Pantomimes are opening to entertain their local communities this Christmas in a critical period for the financial health of that theatre for the year ahead after a turbulent last eighteen months for the sector. The Producers have a difficult balance to strike between the cost of investing in the production and the risks to the income generated in this environment with some audiences nervous about returning to live theatre. The result is that smaller venues have to put on a production at a fraction of the cost of larger city venues and inevitably it is harder to create a consistently good show. Venues like the small Camberley Theatre need our support and we want them to succeed in continuing to bring live entertainment to their community. 

This year their production is Jack and the Beanstalk with Suzi Budd returning as Director doubling up as an excellent villain Fleshcreep and Thomas Andrew Smith returning for a seventh season as choreographer and the trainee fairy Colin, and the show depends on their contribution for its energy and creativity. They are the best two performers in the show and give it a lift when they are on stage with a good stage presence and reactions.

The script by Michael Batchelor and Richard Franks draws on their experience in performing and writing with some good creative ideas but too often the translation from page to the stage feels a mechanical delivery of the words and misses the nuances of execution that more experienced performers might bring. The ice cream van scene with the Dame (Matt Ian Kelly) and Simon (Josh Harvey) is set up for a good slosh scene but disappoints. The ghost scene is also well set with good ghosts but lacks the precision and rhythm of the very best executions of this classic pantomime business.

Betty Jones brings a young fresh look to Jill as a mechanic dressed like a 1940’s land girl that promises a modern strong female lead. She shows her potential in a good duet with Jack (Luke Drewell) of “Your Song” and in singing to send the Giant (Jake Bailey) to sleep accompanying herself on the cello. Indeed, the Giant looks impressively tall with a single animated eye although his voice lacks the power of the usually booming Brian Blessed sound, but he at least enjoys a happy ending for a change.

The Ensemble is well drilled in its choreography and integrated into the show especially in the finale with garlands but generally, there is a lack of energy and pace in many scenes, and it feels too long, especially the first half. While Fleshcreep has good entrance and exit music, too often we hear the footsteps of the cast exiting or the swish of the half tab cloth being pulled across the stage which disrupts the flow of the production and could have been covered by incidental underscores.

It’s harsh to compare a show like this to the production values and cast of Pantomimes at the London Palladium or the Mayflower Southampton but for the Camberley community this show offers a local trip to see Pantomime for the first time or with the family at Christmas and for that, we must celebrate the endeavour and support the venue.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★

Seat: Stalls, Row H | Price of Ticket: £24
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