Jack and the Beanstalk
KD Theatre Productions
The Maltings, Ely
There are over 250 professional pantomimes being staged this season, a figure that slowly increases year on year as more and more venues across the UK embrace the artform. Presenting the Maltings, Ely's first ever professional pantomime, KD Theatre Productions launches its very own take on the age old tale of Jack and the Beanstalk at the Cambridgeshire venue.
Flashbacks are more frequently found in Sleeping Beauty than Jack and the Beanstalk, but director and writer Daniel Bells's production begins with the Giant defeated and Jack being hailed victorious before Fairy Eco kindly agrees to rewind time. Although a novel prologue, it does somewhat do away with the notion that only with the audience's help will Jack be successful on his quest and sets up a barrier to the necessity of involvement and participation that pantomime thrives off.
As the green-fingered and green-minded Fairy, Lucinda Withers is a magical delight as she welcomes the audience to the show and sets up the narrative. Her engaging delivery of lines and stunning vocals bring joy to the stage whenever she appears and the audience is in no doubt that with her onside, a Happy Ending will be had by all.
Vocals are strong throughout the production with Jack and Princess Apricot played by Rachel Rawlinson and Sarah-Jayne Price delivering many a tuneful musical theatre number. The team of five musicians under the direction of Oli Rew create a strong sound, which is further boosted by backing vocals and additional instruments via backing track to lift the sound and create the perfect festive atmosphere for the intimate venue.
In his first professional Dame, Daniel Bell's Dame Trott mixes the warm, laid-back style of Brad Fitt with Chris Hayward's saucy glamour to create a well-defined character who drives proceedings complete with her array of sumptuous costumes and end-of-sentence cathphrase, "dear". At only twenty-two years of age, Bell is one of the youngest in the industry, but it is clear to see from his writing, daming and direction that he is passionate about the genre and, together with co-producer and choreographer Katherine Hickmott, the two form a new generation of producers working hard to share the joy of pantomime and its rich heritage with new audiences.
One of pantomime's most treasured conventions is the slosh scene, which takes pride of place in Act One as Dame Trott seeks to make a new style of protein shake to improve business. As strawberry and chocolate milk fall down the funnel and eggs fly from left to right, the dairy is caked in gooey mess which leaves Dame Trott and son Billy sliding across the stage as they attempt to bottle the shake and ensure all of the necessary buttons remain pressed in.
Like a scene from Total Wipeout, the duo do their best to remain upright, but with most of the comedy arising from their falls, the scene requires a more defined structure to the achieve the grand payoff it deserves.
Full of youthful energy from a fresh new production company, Jack and the Beanstalk is a promising start from KD Theatre Productions. With next year's title announced as Cinderella, greater scenographic investment will ensure the show sparkles as much as Cinderella's crystal slipper.
Reviewer: Simon Sladen