Jack and the Beanstalk
Jonathan Kiley and Michael Vivian with additional material by Julian Clary and David McGillivray
The Mayflower, Southampton
Not only have the people of Southampton had to wait two years since pantomime last graced their stage, they have also had to wait until 22nd December for their pantomime to open. But as the old adage reminds us, "Good things come to those who wait." Having listened to their loyal audience, pantomime is back at the Mayflower Theatre bigger and better than ever before produced by the largest company in Pantoland: Qdos Entertainment.
Unlike rivals First Family Entertainment, Qdos ensures its pantomimes retain a strong sense of comedy and hark back to the heyday of variety and light entertainment. Although this often means stars are afforded their own section of the show bearing no relation or contribution to the plot, it ensures audiences across the land get to witness some of the best talent and acts the UK has to offer.
Jack and the Beanstalk at the Mayflower is a production of epic proportions. Mirroring Birmingham Hippodrome’s Dick Whittington of 2010, Julian Clary, Nigel Havers and Jeffrey Holland are re-united as the show’s Benevolent Agent, Villain and Dame and it is easy to see why Qdos wanted to send this talented trio to Southampton to re-launch pantomime at the venue.
As the Spirit of the Beans, Julian Clary once again delivers a wonderful performance as the production’s Good Fairy reminding the audience that "there’s a joke in every line if you look for it." His talented wordplay ensures his dialogue is risqué without being risky as his double entendres keep the laughs coming for the parents and "alternative family units" alike.
With Lee Mead in the title role there are plenty of references to him winning Any Dream Will Do and playing the role of Joseph, but what makes this casting work so well is not only Mead’s truthful portrayal of the dreamer who wishes to marry the Princess and rid the land of Giant Blunderbore, but the fact that the production uses Mead’s claim to fame as comedy fodder. When the children of the ensemble enter with candles ready to ‘Ah-ah’ their way through the melody to the song that made Mead famous, Clary provides a hilarious commentary and steals the show with his witty repartee, a feat he achieves again in the second act with his now obligatory panto staple ‘Wandering Star’.
Since his panto debut in High Wycombe in 2006, Havers has become one of the best baddies in the business. A snarling, yet dashing Sir Nigel Fleshcreep, Havers relishes his role and taunts the crowd as he enters into the true spirit of Pantoland complete with Chariots of Fire references and even a dig at his Birmingham co-star Joan Collins. With the production mirroring Wolverhampton’s Jack and the Beanstalk, Havers too gets the opportunity to adopt many a disguise and his Act Two opener sets the sinister and scary tone of the second half perfectly.
This production, like executive producer, co-writer and director Jonathan Kiley’s in Wolverhampton, works so well as the Immortals drive the narrative. But whereas Wolverhampton’s Jack leaves Dame and Comic slightly redundant, this is not the case in Southampton’s show thanks to the addition of Lucy, Princess Apricot’s Lady in Waiting.
Played by local radio presenter Shireen Jordan, Lucy draws Simple Simon back into the narrative and, rather than constitute a front cloth act, a subplot forms that sees the two fall in love. As Simon, Paul Zerdin is at home as ever on the pantomime stage and complete with best friend Sam, the two provide plenty of silly antics, even if Zerdin’s dialogue does come across a little rushed at times when not delivering his ventriloquist act.
It is a shame, however, that Jeffrey Holland’s delightful Dame Tulisa Trot isn’t afforded more stage time. Poor Holland suffered a similar fate in Birmingham and in his 41st pantomime, he surely deserves more than three costumes; a blue and red version of the same design for Act One and Two and a Kew Gardens inspired greenhouse creation for the finale?
That aside, Qdos has pulled out all the stops for this production. Its stunning sets and sumptuous costumes fill the stage creating a series of wonderful vistas that hark back to the glory days of the Palladium. With technology having moved on immensely since the Palladium’s last panto of 1987, the Giant and Cloudland in this production are brought to life thanks to cinema's 3D technology.
The use of 3D brings the genre right up to date, replacing the moving cycloramas of Victorian pantomime and delighting generation X-Box. The technology works perfectly to increase the level of interaction and it is good to see the performers themselves interacting with the 3D on a greater scale as gold coins are lifted and pest repellent sprayed to ward off Cloudland’s creepy crawlies. Although the most popular aspect of the show with the songsheet children, the sections do come across as rather messy at present as the performers ad-lib their way through the 3D sequences in an otherwise slick production.
A giant of a show, Jack and the Beanstalk will be the talk of the town this festive season and heralds an exciting new era of large-scale pantomime on the South Coast.
Reviewer: Simon Sladen