THE NORTHCOTT THEATRE – TILL 6 JANUARY 2019
JACK AND THE BEANSTALK
RUNNING TIME – 2 hours 15 minutes – 1 interval
Northcott Box Office – 01392 726363
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 11 DECEMBER 2018
The Pantomime Season is off and running and, seemingly, every theatre in the country is crammed with Cinderellas, Dick Whittingtons, Snow Whites and, at The Northcott Theatre in Exeter, Jack and the Beanstalk.
There are many traditions associated with the pantomime genre and it is an almost uniquely British institution and one which visitors to these shores often struggle to make head or tail of. But panto is a wonderful aspect of our lives and it would be poorer without it. The preponderance of productions, therefore, means they have to be on the ball, provide something special for the audiences which they will remember and, most importantly, entertain everyone.
The script by Steve Bennett (he is noted in the programme as Joint Script Writer, thought there appears to be no credit for the collaborator) takes the story of Jack and presents it in very simple terms. There is nothing complicated about this plot.
This is a modest production with just a cast of eight and a small children’s chorus and is very much set in ‘traditional’ pantomime territory, following many of the ‘rules’. However, and it is a big however, the end result just isn’t very good.
On the night I was there, the audience was not large, but with a high percentage of younger members who, as you would expect, booed and cheered at the right moments, they were provided with little else to amuse them. The older ones, provided with even less.
I am afraid this is a script which feels as if it was written about 40 years ago. Pantomimes use locality and topical events as ways to get extra laughs but, except for the mention of 2 towns and the X Factor, that was about it. In fact, laughs were very few and far between. It just wasn’t very funny. I don’t get it when the plot goes on about ‘taxes’ being taken from people – do the children know what they are going on about? Hardly. Make it more accessible.
Song choices were poor. Why nothing modern (so far as I could tell anyway) other than ‘The Climb’ which is 10 years old. Why not something in the sphere of the target audience? I found this entirely curious.
Choreography was simple and mainly for the young persons chorus and they performed their routines effectively enough, but there was nothing in the dancing to make you go WOW! During a duet between Jack and Jill, two dancers took to the stage behind the singers for a short balletic routine, but it was performed in near darkness! The lighting was sadly patchy with actors faces quite regularly in shadow.
The small band were effective enough and the singing throughout was perfectly acceptable and sound levels were fine.
As Dame Dotty Trott, Steve Bennett, is from that school of Dames which can never be accused of being feminine or particularly camp. This is a rough-hewn Dame who moves like a prop forward – no criticism there.
Noel White provides a likeable, if older than usual, Silly Billy and Emma Stansfield is engaging as Fairy Mistletoe. Mark Jardine, as Fleshcreep, gabbled through his lines at the start of the show to the point that they were inaudible, but he settled down as the show progressed. Jessie May as Jack and Victoria Lucy as Jill gave solid performances and sang well. Dan Ball (who also played the Giant) and Jaz Franklin joined up to play Daisy the Cow – the costume for which had a curiously deformed head! The Giant was a great costume – though I was concerned it was coming apart at the back.
The beanstalk was probably the star here – seeing it grow before our eyes – gave the audience something to be impressed with. The sets were colourful and matched the brief.
The pace was really never more than pedestrian. There was no real momentum to the production and moments when everything just came to a grinding halt. The sweet shop sequence, though a clever play on words …’take an AERO plane into the MILKY WAY and maybe you will reach MARS’ (not a quote but you get the idea) just went on too long and holding up a tiny bar of chocolate to illustrate each name was pointless in a theatre – no one could really make out what they were – maybe make some larger versions? Costumes were adequate, but also lacked any pazazz until the walkdown.
I know so much hard work goes in to every production, but, as mentioned before, this is a competitive market, and this is just not good enough. The script is poor and unimaginative, the direction is uninventive – if I have seen the Ghost/Bench routine once I have seen it a dozen times – and the songs are not engaging with the modern audience.
A disappointing evening when it should be so much better. There are so many really great scripts out there, its worth looking for a good one as a starting point!
GIANT/DAISY – DAN BALL
DAME DOTTY TROTT – STEVE BENNETT
DAISY/CHORUS – JAZ FRANKLIN
FLESHCREEP – MARK JARDINE
JILL – VICTORIA LUCIE
JACK – JESSIE MAY
FAIRY MISTLETOE – EMMA STANSFIELD
SILLY BILLY – NOEL WHITE
YOUNG CHORUS – EMILY BAKER, ALICE BOYLAN, ALICIA DEAN, EVIE HERBERT, GEORGE MORAN, MEGAN PRIESTLEY, ARCHIE SWANTON, EVANGELINE
DIRECTOR & JOINT SCRIPT WRITER – STEVE BENNETT
ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR/CHOREOGRAPHER – SUZIE BOYLE
MUSICAL DIRECTOR – PAUL MCCLURE
LIGHTING DESIGN – RUSSELL PAYNE
SOUND DESIGN – BEN HARRISON
SET DESIGN – ALEXANDER MCPHERSON
GIANT DESIGN – REBECCA LEE