Jack and the Beanstalk

Phil Willmott
The Corn Exchange Company
The Corn Exchange Newbury

Jack (Harry Downes) and Jill (Hannah Ponting) and the Ensemble Credit: The Other Richard
Billy (Matthew Grace) Dame (Eamonn Fleming) and Jack (Harry Downes) Credit: The Other Richard
Matthew Grace as Billy Credit: The Other Richard

It’s panto time—oh yes it is!—and the Corn Exchange is looking very festive with a gorgeous tree in the foyer and the auditorium beautifully decorated with festoons of lights, striking murals painted by the community and beanstalks growing up the walls.

This year’s adventure is Jack and the Beanstalk, once again written and directed by Phil Willmott, and he has conjured up the perfect ingredients for a ‘Ginormous’ fun time.

This very special Christmas treat is filled with all the traditional panto elements: wonderfully lavish, sparkling costumes, colourful set, a huge beanstalk and a truly scary giant.

There are some dreadful jokes, some aimed at the adults, including references to Brexit and also local issues such as the green bin costs. There is oodles of audience participation and tomfoolery and the audience loved every minute of it. Watch out for the giant beans and tomato sauce and the hilarious version of Old Macdonald’s Farm.

The ever-popular, talented Matthew Grace makes a welcome return to the stage as Billy Bumpkin. He has a wonderful rapport with the audience who gave him an enthusiastic welcome and we were all happy to join his ‘gang’.

Back in Newbury Bottom, Mrs Bumpkin and her two sons are struggling to make ends meet. Jack, splendidly played by Harry Downes, is on a gap year before going to university whilst his brother Billy does all the chores and looks after Daisy, the blue and pink spotted cow.

Joshua Coley, who was nominated for the National Best Comedy Duo last year, makes his fourth appearance at the Corn Exchange playing the role of Pickle Onion with aplomb. His rivalry with Billy is a joy to watch.

The evil Sir Dastardly is planning to buy up the village and build luxury apartments. Danny Stokes makes a deliciously nasty villain that the audience loved to boo.

High up in the sky, the Giant is getting hungry and his servants, Pickle and Fairy Alfalfa, delightfully performed by Emma Fraser, are trying to save the village from the Giant’s wrath.

Thank goodness for Jill, the professional giant tamer. A feisty performance from Hannah Ponting, who has a lovely singing voice and also falls in love with Jack.

Every panto needs a Dame and Eamonn Fleming, making his Newbury debut, is simply superb with so many costume changes and outrageous puns.

There is excellent support from an accomplished, large, hard-working ensemble: Mikulas Urbanek, Laren Anderson-Oakley, Danny Chesworth and Eva Ross-Davie.

Daniel Maguire’s slick, inventive choreography sparkles and the cast dance with energy and style. The Abba parody compilation is wonderful.

The first act finale, "This Is Me" from The Greatest Showman, is outstanding and reflects the high professional standards created by this year’s company including impressive lighting by Guy Dickens and music by Richard Baker and Harry Haden-Brown that raise the bar.

All too soon it’s time for the song sheet singing competition and of course it all ends happily.

The Corn Exchange has a “gigantic” hit with this family-friendly panto that should definitely be on your Christmas list. Not to be missed!

Reviewer: Robin Strapp

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