Jack and the Beanstalk
Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
Since its opening two years ago in 2011, the new Marlowe Theatre has presented a string of spectacular pantomimes. 2013’s festive is no exception and Canterbury audiences are treated to a production buzzing with energy and full to the brim with gags.
Jack and the Beanstalk is this season’s most produced pantomime and Evolution Productions sets the bar extremely high. Not only has the company assembled a stellar cast full of talented performers, Paul Hendy’s script brings new life to the age-old tale and ensures that audiences are kept in awe of the production from the moment the band starts to play.
It is hard to believe that Ben Roddy is only in his second year of playing Dame. One of the most exciting Dames in the business at present, his characterisation and timing places him in the great hall of Dames and has the audience enthralled each time he appears on stage.
In a departure from his usual role of Comic, Roddy’s sparring partner in last year’s Sleeping Beauty Lloyd Hollett takes on 'baddy' duties for the first time in his panto career. A cross between the Child-catcher and Dick Dastardly, with a hint of Harry Hill, Hollett’s Dr Hefferflumphenstein is both villainous and humorous and provides him with ample opportunity to show off his strong singing skills.
Canterbury audiences have come to expect three specific ingredients to their much loved pantomime. This year’s pun-off using signposts and road signs adds an extra layer of localisation, whilst the legendary ghost gag bench is afforded extra importance as it becomes part of the plot.
Hefferflumphenstein's kidnapping of the Canterbury pantomime’s prized possession elicits the most vehement boos of the evening, which transform into the loudest of cheers when it is finally rescued; however, the ghost gag’s relocation in Act Two’s narrative post-saving the Princess means that the chase down the beanstalk is stalled somewhat and slightly illogical as any sense of urgency at leaving the castle is lost.
The third ingredient Canterbury audiences expect is, of course, the slosh scene, which this year takes place in Dame Trot’s dairy as she seeks to break the ice cream market. With only Dame Trot and her son Billy partaking in the comic capers, one can’t help but miss Hollett’s comedic presence, especially as in the proceeding scene his character threatens to scupper the Trots' new ice cream making machine and his involvement would provide the piece with greater narrative strength and structure.
As Billy, Phil Gallagher (CBeebies' Mister Maker) exudes charisma, effortlessly building rapport with the audience and whole heartedly partaking in the cast's ribbing that he’s not Mr Tumble. When Gallagher and Roddy lead the song sheet, the noise is greater than a One Direction concert and testament to the two hours they’ve spent working the audience to ensure they feel part of the magic.
Jo Parsons's heroic Jack Trot and Trina Hill’s fine voiced Princess May ensure the quest and romance narrative are delivered successfully and when Hill’s rendition of "Titanium" has the audience waving their arms and joining in, no one can argue that Chris Wong’s movingly emotive orchestration isn't spot on in every sense.
Wong’s nineteen years of Marlowe pantomimes culminate in a wonderful sound with the band repositioned in the theatre’s boxes on all three levels. This puts them in the spotlight they rightly deserve and demonstrates their importance in not only the musical numbers, but the atmospheric accenting of the show through underscoring.
The revelation of Blunderbore is full of expectation and anticipation, which is shattered time and time again as a whole family of magnificent giants is revealed. The Giant Family provides Act Two with greater narrative strength than is usually afforded to Jack and the Beanstalk and provides the spectacle that pantomime demands.
Sam Womack's sassy Fairy Sugarsnap, John Barr's joyous King Eric and a team of eight talented dancers complete the cast and keep this beanstalk buzzing all night long in the Marlowe Theatre's best pantomime to date.
Reviewer: Simon Sladen