Jack and the Beanstalk

Andrew Ryan
Martin Dodd for UK Productions
The Anvil, Basingstoke

Mark Little as Fleshcreep

Welcome to “Amazingstoke”, the fictional village that’s the setting for this year’s Basingstoke pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk, written by Andrew Ryan, at the Anvil.

The foyer was buzzing with the audience eagerly anticipating this year’s family friendly show that overflowed with seasonal warmth.

This production has all the ingredients for the perfect pantomime with colourful sets, inventive lighting, gorgeous costumes and oodles of audience participation.

There are plenty of local references and some frightful funny one-liners and jokes together with some traditional scenes including the ghost sketch and a simple slosh routine, about Italian ice cream, that the youngsters loved.

Mark Little (aka Joe Mangel in Neighbours) plays the evil Fleshcreep and relishes the loud boos from the audience or, as he puts it, "I’m only here for the booze.” The adults enjoyed that pun as well as his references to Donald Trump.

Forest Fairy (Melanie Walters) has a problem. Since we are now living in times of austerity, she’s doing the job of three fairy godmothers and continually gets the characters’ names mixed up from other pantomimes: all good fun.

The energetic, affable Chris Pizzey from CBBC’s The Basil Brush Show is the streetwise, cool Simple Simon who quickly establishes a good-natured rapport with the audience with his catchphrase, ”I say simple; you say Simon.” His magic trick at the start is hilarious and won the audience over. He also assuredly directs.

Making his southern debut, Philip Meeks is the perfect Dame Tessie Trot with plenty of audience banter, wearing a new more outlandish frock at each appearance in an excellent panto performance.

The love interest comes from our dashing hero Jack, the splendid Mark Rhodes, who has great stage presence, and Chloe Amber as Princess Jill. Both have good singing voices.

But the land is thwarted by the Giant who is putting up the taxes and everyone is now forced to live in poverty. The Trot family are forced to sell their loveable Daisy, the cow, who won the hearts of the youngsters and the bumbling King (Michael Chance) even loses his throne as well as his daughter who is captured by Fleshcreep, but will Jack be able to rescue her?

Of course there is a beanstalk that magically grows before our eyes and a huge giant who eventually meets an ugly end and Jack battles it out with Fleshcreep in the final fight scene.

There is excellent support from a talented ensemble together with the juveniles from Basingstoke Academy of Dance and the North Hampshire Academy of Dance with slick choreography by Sarah Louise Day.

With a lively musical score under the direction of Martyn Cooper, this certainly is the ideal start to the Christmas festivities. Oh yes it is!

Reviewer: Robin Strapp