Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Jack and the Beanstalk

Marc Day
Millfield Arts Centre, Enfield
(2010)

Jack and the Beanstalk production photo

As old Grimaldi used to say, "Here we are again!" Up and down the country Fairies are getting ready to flap their wings, whilst Principal Boys practise their thigh slaps all in the name of the fabulous festive entertainment we Brits call pantomime.

Down at the Millfield Arts Centre the village of Merryvale is no longer merry at all. The evil Giant Blunderbore is casting a horrid shadow over the land and the Trotts have fallen on hard times, owing, as they do, three months of rent.

But the stars of this Jack and the Beanstalk aren't, as one might expect, the Trotts, but the Immortals: Fairy Deluxe and Fleshcreep, played by Ali James and James Lavender respectively. They are superb in their roles and relish their good versus evil interplay.

Lavender, as the Giant's henchman Fleshcreep, knows how to work a crowd and his Villain has something of Dick Dastardly about him. He's creepy, yet comic, and passes the ultimate test of wickedness: on the performance I attended he actually made children in the audience cry, twice.

Always "ready for duty" should things go wrong is James' glittering Fairy Deluxe. Perky and sassy, James executes her rhyming couplets perfectly and can belt out a number rather impressively too. Most impressive, however, are her array of costumes and magic wand, which really does send sparks flying.

Neil Wright is back as the Dame after his success last year and his giggling soul sister of a Dottie Trott is well received by the excitable Millfield audience. Wright pulls off some glorious up-beat numbers, as well as a lovely rendition of 'Little Patch of Heaven' from the little known Disney film Home On The Range.

There is a good mix of musical numbers, and the first of what I feel will be many a Glee inspired choices, with Act One ending as it does with a rendition of 'Don't Stop Believing'. Unfortunately the act ends somewhat disappointingly after a well choreographed U.V sequence, with a beanstalk that resembles last year's tangled up tinsel.

In the romantic leads of Jack and Jill, Andrew Bryant and Keisha Atwell, are stronger singers than they are actors and against this kaleidoscopic cast come across as rather dull.

It is also somewhat bemusing that Simple Simon (Christopher Bartlett) comments that the adorable Buttercup the Cow, in her tap dancing routine, is "like Starlight Express", when rollerskates are nowhere to be seen. I doubt there has ever been a rollerskating pantomime cow, but this would indeed form a wonderful musical number. It is even more puzzling as to why he, along with Wright, appears to mime the Act Two opener 'Up, Up and Away (My Beautiful Balloon)' when both have good singing voices.

These quibbles aside, Jack and the Beanstalk at the Millfield Arts Centre is a jolly pantomime and praise must go to the lighting design courtesy of John Castle. His disco-inspired clouds are a welcome addition and liven up the proscenium during the overture, with his other lighting effects contributing to a wonderful sense of energy throughout the show.

Playing until 2nd January 2011

Reviewer: Simon Sladen