Jack and the Beanstalk

Brenda Lafevere
Duo Pantomimes Ltd
Regent Theatre, Ipswich

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The story of Jack and his magic beans is well known throughout the land, but at the Ipswich Regent most of the story happens before any mention of magic beans or beanstalks, let alone the sale of Daisy the cow. Jack and the Princess Tamara fall in love straight away and have the King's blessing right from the start. This leaves the story with nowhere to go and the conflict between poor Dame Trott's son not being good enough for the King's daughter is written out - there's no class politics here. Thank goodness for Fleshcreep tricking Jack into selling Daisy and kidnapping the Princess otherwise the plot would be over far too soon.

James Mackenzie is a frightening Fleshcreep, evil to the bone and scowling whenever upon the stage. He has a chillingly evil laugh and relishes his role as the Giant's henchmen; inflicting terror wherever he goes. He is aided by a troupe of cockroaches who perform a nifty Diversity-style dance routine in the second act whilst awaiting his command.

Ken Morley, as Dame Trott, injects some much needed life into this production and it is a shame he is not given more stage time. Dressed in some wonderful costumes, including outfits fashioned from Christmas puddings, cheeses, baked beans and Christmas trees, it is easy to see that Morley is well versed in the role of Dame and enjoys making young and old chuckle with delight at his comic antics.

Poor Daisy the cow looks like she's been the subject of scientific tests, possessing a face that looks like a cross between a dog and a rabbit. Despite some facial disfigurement she manages to produce her dairy delights in a well executed milking scene, which could benefit greatly from some musical underscoring.

Antony Costa plays Dame Trott's son as a Jack the lad and doesn't take his role seriously enough. A bit of corpsing is to be expected in pantomime, but general mucking about on stage shows unprofessionalism and a lack of commitment to the role. Certain scenes felt as if the audience was privy to a rehearsal as his acting came across as most lazy and tired.

Jack's enemy, the Giant Blunderbore, is excellently manipulated by Daniel Endrész. Not only does his jaw move in perfect sync with the dialogue, he also manages to kick Fleshcreep out of the way, move items on the table with his huge hands, stride around the stage and finally sit down on a chair for a snooze. Such diverse movement is not usually seen or achieved with such success as it is here and this helps immensely in bringing the tyrant to life, making him even more believable.

Whereas many Jacks leave the question of how the Giant comes to an end up in the air, Duo's production clearly states he dies. In fact Jack stabs him multiple times on stage and cheers his death, only to find that he isn't truly dead and therefore finishes him off by chopping the beanstalk down. Well, he would chop it down if he hadn't have left his sword in the Giant's castle, so a bomb is brought on stage in order to blow up the beanstalk and the Giant. Pantomime as a genre is moralistic in nature, but it is unclear what morals are being taught here. Is cheering a hero who first repeatedly stabs someone and then blows them up something we should encourage?

Unfortunately you won't find any live music at the Ipswich Regent; the entire show is on backing track, including most of the chorus' vocals. It doesn't help that microphone levels are too low and that some chorus and cast members do not mime convincingly, fully exposing the backing tracks.

Another let down is the drab set, which looks as though it's stood outside the Regent all summer and faded in the sun. There's no sparkle about it until the finale, which is a real shame and contributes to the show's tired feel.

Playing until 10th January 2010

Reviewer: Simon Sladen

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