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Sunday, 11 December 2022

REVIEW: Jack and the Beanstalk at the South Hill Park Arts Centre

Pantomime may be a wonderful Christmas entertainment for the family but at its heart is the storytelling that draws the audience in and makes them care about the characters, laugh at the silliness and will them to succeed in their goals. For that to work, the creative team need a great script to create a world in which the story can be told. The Wilde Theatre in South Hill Park Arts Centre in Bracknell is very fortunate to have such a fabulous team. Joyce Branagh’s script, her fourth for the venue is superb, recasting Jack as a girl out to save the town of Windy Bottom from the fearful Giant and his dastardly Victorian henchman who, it is revealed, is a Wizard of Oz-style master of the Giant. She adds references to solar energy and recycling to give it a strong modern message and adds a fresh twist on why Fleshcreep is so evil which gives the story a satisfying resolution. Victoria Spearing set design once again is imaginative, and spectacular given the staging depth and a gradual reveal as layers are peeled back and we get closer to Fort Fear in the clouds. It has pastel cartoonish colouring that is attractive to look at and practical to use. Together they create a perfect setting for the young energetic cast to impress.

Director Adam Stafford (who has directed there for the last five years) and choreographer Charlotte Steele (last 3 staged pantomimes at the Wilde) use this setting cleverly to freshen up the standard routines of milking the cow, the baking sketch, the drill routine, the ghost bench scene and the 12 days of Christmas. While other directors stick to what they know works, this team look to add a twist and fit it more strongly into the overall storytelling and while it may not all work it is incredibly refreshing to see old routines being lovingly evolved and played with. They add some interesting puppet work with a mini Dame and Billy and a cut-out puppet Giant which enliven the usual business of the story too although sharper lighting is required to hide the black “ninja” outfits that are used to present these puppets. And then they add a curious in-cast joke where a small fluffy yellow duck is passed from cast member to cast member on each entrance for no apparent reason apart, I suspect to amuse themselves and keep fresh the performances.

Friday, 3 December 2021

REVIEW: Cinderella at the Wilde Theatre in South Hill Park

The pantomime season has started, and my first visit is to perhaps the most popular and traditional title of Cinderella at the small intimate Wilde Theatre in South Hill Park. Joyce Branagh’s script gives the familiar story a very fresh modern feel by setting it in HardUp Hotel run by Buttons and Cinders, although with the junior ensemble dressed as geriatrics with Zimmer frames, it looks more like an upmarket care home. Director Adam Stafford takes this starting point and integrates the Junior Ensemble into each scene to add depth to the small cast and create some of the best comedy moments of the show.

Victoria Spearing’s fourteenth pantomime set design once again sets new standards in creativity and innovation with a wonderful three truck set for the Hotel Reception which is practical and attractive and transforms into a beautifully conceived external gypsy caravan cafe wood scene that doubles up for the Finale walk down. In between it felt like what was left of the budget was sparingly used in the slosh scene and the ballroom scene which failed to match up to the quality of the opening scenes and the transformation scene was rather pedestrian. Alan Valentine’s colourful lighting adds to the pretty pictures created. 
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