Jack and the Beanstalk
Grand Theatre, Swansea
Billed as "A Giant of a Pantomime", this show - directed by Michael Vivian - delivers all the usual ingredients of panto in spades: colour, spectacle, an eminently hissable villain, the triumph of good over evil and bucketloads of laughs - all topped off with that indefinable feelgood factor that keeps one warm for days.
Every panto needs a crowd-puller who will put the proverbial bums on seats, and this year's big name is Gary Beadle, best known to mainstream audiences for his role as Paul Truman in EastEnders. At this stage, of course, panto purists - and there are a lot of them out there - will undoubtedly groan and drone on about TV stars with no stage presence hijacking the magical make-believe world of panto. In this specific instance, however, I am delighted to report that Beadle's performance as Fleshcreep, the giant's henchman, is a revelation - particularly when one considers that this is his first ever panto role. A combination of physical presence, strong vocal projection and a talent for engaging with the audience will undoubtedly do wonders for ticket sales, as indeed will the presence of homegrown entertainer Mike Doyle, a larger-than-life panto veteran whose showmanship, comic timing and rich singing voice score a hit with audiences every time he steps on stage. Doyle's Jack is a nicely judged characterisation, combining that essential childlike innocence and simplicity with a hint of pathos and flashes of heroism (my only real quibble being that it might be time to drop Doyle's familiar entrance on a scooter - having dropped the dated "Waassuup" catchphrase this year in favour of a less dated "We love it!").
The love interest is provided by newcomer Cathryn Davis as Princess Crumble, with Pop Idol's Kim Gee as the Fairy and Frank Vickery turning in a good performance as the bumbling but good-natured King.
Swansea Grand favourite Kevin Johns - a likeable and charismatic entertainer whose loyalty to this venue is legendary - is a terrific Dame Trot with a booming voice and a vast array of dreadful frocks, while the "aah" factor is provided by Cerys - quite possibly the prettiest pantomime cow I have ever seen, with eyes to die for... which is perhaps a little worrying when you come to think about it!
Splendid stuff, enlivened by the usual selection of rousing musical numbers(choreographed by Dezzi Lloyd), soaring orchestration(by John Quirk)and enough broad comedy to satisfy everyone from grown-ups to kids who will undoubtedly enjoy the mildly rude gags and the sequence in which Jack blasts the audience with water - oh yes he does!
A word of praise in particular for the talented youngsters of the Grand Theatre Dance School and for Chris Barrett's brilliantly conceived lighting, which ensures that the on-stage antics are highlighted in crystalline detail.
This is one of which both the production company - Qdos - and the Grand itself can be justly proud, and if by some chance it does not manage to beat last year's box office record, then I'll eat Mike Doyle's baseball cap. On second thoughts, maybe not.
Reviewer: Graham Williams