Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Jack and the Beanstalk

Andrew Pollard
Watford Palace Theatre
(2011)

Jack and the Beanstalk, Watford Palace

In the acting world, the phrase ‘break a leg’ is thought to fend off evil spirits. However it does not always work and, unfortunately for Josh Capper, injury befell him during the rehearsal period, meaning that his Principal Boy spends the show on crutches. This causes some difficulty for a hero needing to climb a beanstalk, but in the Palace’s production, Jack is a hero who can achieve anything.

This year’s pantomime has been penned by Andrew Pollard, known as resident Dame and writer of the Greenwich Theatre’s festive show. Pollard also supplies the Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond with a script each year and after the success of this glorious production, it looks like he may have another writing residency on the cards.

Pollard has transported the usual countryside setting to a funfair, where owner Frank Furter must raise the stallholders’ taxes in order to pay the large bill set by Giant Bonecrunch. The funfair setting works well and allows for some glorious slapstick and visual comedy, not least Dame Trott’s entrance on a runaway dodgem.

Cleo Pettitt’s sets are an explosion of felt pen delight. Bright and bold, they scream fun and frolics and compliment the pantomime’s vibrant costumes. Dame Trott’s are especially a scream, with ice-cream cones, helter skelters and a carousel complete with rotating horses forming her wardrobe.

As Dame Dotty Trott, Terence Frisch proves his pantomime pedigree and achieves great rapport with audience members young and old. Teamed with Martin Callaghan as Frank Furter the two excel in the slosh scene even when the machinery doesn’t want to play. Pollard’s pineapple yoghurt patter, complete with tropical rumba and maracas, is a refreshingly innovative addition to Pantoland and a great way to utilise Buttercup’s milk as Dame Trott invents a potty new product for her American-inspired Diner.

Jack and the Beanstalk is full of fun and romance and boasts plenty of feel-good songs from the charts. Pantomimes seem to be awash with Adele this year and Callaghan’s rendition of ‘Rolling in the Deep’ has audience members both laughing and ‘ahh-ing’ in equal measure, such is his talent to communicate a lyric. Other musical highlights include a Queen-inspired Act One finale and a Motown Mashup to open Act Two courtesy of musical director Paul Herbert. Each musical number is seamlessly interwoven into the narrative with well placed underscoring contributing greatly to the creation of emotion and atmosphere.

The cast communicate their roles with integrity, and Nadine Higgin’s Principal Girl Jill acts as a great role model for the younger members of the audience. Higgin’s impressive belt combined with Capper’s softer tones creates an array of beautifully sung musical numbers from the two lovers, full of soul and energy.

Ben Watson makes for a very naughty Nightshade, channelling Heath Ledger’s Joker and Basil Fawlty and although there is no Fairy in the production, Laura Doddington’s fortune teller Fortuna proves that magic comes in many forms. In pantomime, Benevolent Agents exist to merely guide those in need; as Fortuna reminds us—if you believe in yourself, you can achieve anything.

With stunning sets and a superb script, the Watford Palace has achieved panto perfection. A roller coaster of delights, this is one Jack and the Beanstalk which everyone should roll up for.

‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ plays at the Watford Palace until 31st December 2011

Reviewer: Simon Sladen