Jack and the Beanstalk
Guild Hall productions
Charter Theatre, Preston
As you might expect of a pantomime born and raised in the heart of Lancashire, this is as bold, brash and colourful as one of those saucy seaside postcards, and has traditional written through it like a stick of rock.
Perhaps that’s because its writer, director and lead player Ted Robbins always actively channels the great traditions of the county’s hall of comedy fame—not to mention plundering the understairs cupboard where they stored all the jokes.
As Dame Trott he even looks, and fidgets, like Les Dawson, while his treasure trove of gags seems as deep as that of Ted Ray.
So as you might expect his latest panto offering here is strictly conventional, even if it’s not always as faithful to its fairytale legend.
“How did we all get here?” he asks the audience as he and his comedy entourage all arrive at the top of the beanstalk, adding: “I’ve no idea... and I wrote it!”
It’s that scripted improvisation that gives him such a wide appeal to the audience’s age range.
He and Chris Haylett, the show’s producer and venue manager, came up with the panto’s template some years back, after deciding to dispense with pre-packaged productions.
It patently works, so there’s no need to tinker with it.
Its creator is generous in giving every one of its cast a strong role, and sharing out the songs and comedy as well.
Perhaps through his BBC connections, as the Guv’nor from children’s TV series The Slammer, or as a daytime presenter on Radio Lancashire, he’s even convinced their Children in Need mascot Pudsey to make a stage debut here—and gets him to talk!
Amongst other TV faces, Leah Bracknell makes a sturdy comedy role out of Fairy Peapod, Warren Donnelly laps up the booing for Fleshcreep, and Jodie Hamblet and Tom Milner are a well-matched Jack and Jill.
The comedy DNA of their dad Bobby Ball shines in the routines of the Harper Brothers and along with Lucy Faint they make the most of the slapstick.
Joseph Cawley’s Giant even manages, briefly, to subdue a first-night audience of youngsters determined to have a good time.
And the Guv’nor is on hand to deal with the four unabashed children chosen to join in the community sing-song—at least one of whom proves comedy travels down the generations in Lancashire.
Reviewer: David Upton