Review – Jack and the Beanstalk, Southwark Playhouse

Saturday 21 December 2013

Southwark-Playhouse“Have you ever seen Puss in Boots?” Andrew asked Phil recently.

We probably don’t have the kind of conversations typical chaps might have in or out of the boozer. We do not discuss, football, rugby, cricket or golf and we cannot compare the relative acceleration of our cars as we do not possess one between us.

For instance our Stephen Ward post-show conversation – once we had done a bit of necessary fact-checking on the Profumo Affair – somehow led us on to the cast lists of films including On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and almost as inexplicably Disney’s Lt. Robinson Crusoe and the difference between the acting Nancys (or is that Nancies?) Kwan and Kulp.

For the record Phil had seen Puss in Boots. This was at the Bristol Hippodrome in 1965, starring The Bachelors, Mike Yarwood and Freddie (Parrot Face) Davies. Phil happened to be in Bristol a couple of weeks ago and was rather depressed to find this year’s Hippodrome marquee screaming Louie Spence’s name top of the bill with the words “Liz Robertson as Fairy Godmother” ignominiously in a tiny, easily missed, typeface so far below the title it was almost being swept along in the city’s sewers.

We do like our pantos traditional. We can struggle with Peter Pan and Snow White as they do not usually feature dames. Even the Dilton Players are expanding their pantomime canon with Treasure Island this year, but it looks like they have the nous to involve a dame.

Though a dame is no guarantee that a panto work. Phil once walked out at the interval of Robinson Crusoe at the Theatre Royal Brighton despite the august presence of Christopher Timothy and Jack Douglas giving his own special brand of irritatingly twitchy dame.

But, in our book, there is room for as much subversion as you like as long as you hang it all on tradition. Goat and Monkey’s meta-panto Jack and the Beanstalk by Toby Hulse could be the wayward panto offspring of Noises Off. Act 1 sees the show in chaos; the set’s not ready and actors and the budget have disappeared. But, even worse, the sinister Child Catcher-ish Panto Inspector’s (Mathias Hancock and Keiran Rogers “in rotation”) arrival is imminent. Act 2 invites the audience to dress up in costumes provided as they return to their seats and sees, rather unexpectedly, proper scenery (Rebecca Brower) and the four main actors playing all the parts and ripping through the story as traditionally as possible in the circumstances.

Gloriously, within all this confusion, all our favourite elements were there: the song sheet, the dame (Ian Summers) and a slosh scene so sloshy the front row have to be covered in plastic sheeting, though this didn’t stop Phil getting a strange green goo splattered on his face. And the principal boy is played by a woman (Bea Holland)! And there’s also the best-looking, eye-batting panto cow we’ve has ever seen! And, although we failed to catch any, sweets are thrown into the audience! Hurrah!

Despite the all these factors it still didn’t quite work for us. Perhaps we are too traditional. Joel Scott’s production is just a little too ragged, too deconstructed and too frenetic, but there’s no denying the hyperactive energy and brio from all concerned (Michael Bryher and Matt Prendergast complete the principal roles). You could say some people are never satisfied, and in this case you’d be right.

At the end of the show, Phil, who admittedly had been getting into the festive mood, put his coat on over his costume and nearly walked off with it, until Andrew turned Panto Inspector and stepped in.

If only it had been a wig. Andrew would have had to wrestle him to the ground to get that back.

Worth taking a look at the programme. Not an awful lot inside it and no CVs for those concerned, but in keeping with the show it’s also an original and tasty conceit.


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