Sunday, 4 December 2022

REVIEW: Jack and the Beanstalk at the Corn Exchange Newbury

The creative team behind this year’s Newbury Corn Exchange Pantomime, as they have been for the last four years are Clare Plested, Adam Brown, and Amanda Wilsher (who also directs) and they had a clear concept underpinning this year’s show following last year’s success. The whole show is built around the musical choices of Musical Supervisor Dai Watts and played by the MD Josh Cottell and drummer Alun Watson and the thin plot is used merely to link the individual routines. It makes for a musical celebration and a party atmosphere that is fun and enjoyable but lacks some of the traditional laugh-out-loud moments and spectacle of Pantomime.

It opens very brightly setting the tone for the show with the arrival of Fairy Fabulous (played by William Beckerleg) dressed and impersonating Elvis Presley (definitely one for the older audience members as he includes Elvis’s lyrics throughout) who is then challenged about noise levels and singing in Newburyshire by Fleshcreep (a wonderfully silly and well-defined character by Matthew Cavendish). The Giant does not want any music and sends Fleshcreep down to stop them singing and playing music while the villagers want to burst into song at the slightest provocation. We then meet the chief culprit Jack (Sev Keoshgerian) who delivers two excellent songs from the 1944 musical Oklahoma! which give a bright upbeat start to the show. Despite the best efforts of an energetic young cast, it never quite reaches that level again during the show. Instead, we sit back and enjoy a jukebox show of familiar old hits with adapted lyrics.

We have the 1980 hit “9 to 5” introducing the Dame (Justin Brett) followed by “You’ve got a friend in me” sung by Fleshcreep and the 2006 Sister Act song “Fabulous Baby” sung by the Fairy, each adding to the characterisations of the singer. Along the way, we are given a range of Eighties music well sung with lively choreography from Nicky Griffiths including “The only way is up”, “Walking on Sunshine “, Never gonna give you up” and a finale of “Built this city”. It certainly makes you smile and tap your feet as you recognise the tunes. They build on this with a Name that tune segment played on the skeleton bones including “Let it go” and “Thriller” which the younger audience members definitely recognised. They bring the musical selection bang up to date with the Eurovision entry “Spaceman”.

The musical theme is added to by Justin Brett repeating last year's innovation of adding two Showstoppers numbers and creating improvised songs based on short interviews with two audience members. This is always impressive but depends on the quality of material supplied by the audience member. Indeed, Brett seems more comfortable ad-libbing in the interviews and making up the lyrics of these songs than he does delivering some of the written lines. There is quite a lot of adult innuendo in his lines which I am sure does go successfully over the children’s heads but still feels a little out of place in this show. He is supported in these songs by Georgia McIntyre and Emma Thornett as Hot and Spicy Chicks, a punk rock group. Hannah Fairclough provides the love interest for Jack as Jill.

Mark Walters’s set and costume design are attractive and effective with some good speciality dresses for the Dame, an excellent costume for Fleshcreep, a delightfully charming (and underused) cow and an impressively large Giant. The Beanstalk does rise impressively to end Act 1 although the shackle is somewhat visible spoiling the illusion. There is a good creative idea to open Act 2 with a Top Gun dog fight on the way to cloudland, but it was hard to hear all the lines over the underscore which lessened its impact.

This is an enjoyable Pantomime restricted by the budgets of the small regional venue but full of creative ideas and creating a concert party atmosphere from its first singalong Christmas prologue but somewhere the narrative and storytelling, character relationships and pantomime business essential for a great show get lost in the music even if that is “Fabulous baby”!

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row J | Price of Ticket: £29.25

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