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Jack and the Beanstalk

by on 18 December 2017

One Giant Step for Putney

Jack and the Beanstalk

PTC at Putney Arts Theatre until 22nd of December.

Review by Melissa Syversen

The pantomimes are upon us in all their sparkling glory and this time I was off to Putney Arts Theatre for Putney Theatre Company’s production of Jack and the Beanstalk. This classic pantomime story, as you probably all know, is based on the story of Jack and his adventure up a giant beanstalk after trading the family cow for some magic beans in efforts to save the family farm. The Putney Theatre Company has created a new and original script written by PTC’s New Writing Team consisting of Lizzie Iredale, Tim Iredale, Marcia Kelson and composer Simon Herd

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As the audience enters, we are welcomed by the inhabitants of Comfart Farm and other villagers. Originally known as Comfort Farm, the farm is run by Mama Trott, her son Jack and their farmhand Pat who take care of their prized cow Buttercup and the rest of the livestock. Due to his profession and name, Pat is, quite understandingly, affectionately nicknamed Cowpat. Times on Comfort Farm are hard. Mama Trott is crippled by debts and cannot afford to grow anything other than beans, which in return barely generates any profits. Having nothing else to eat but beans, their cow Buttercup can hardly produce any milk. Caught in this vicious circle, what meagre income the farm can scrape together is quickly taken by the evil debt collector Lord Wonga (A funny gag throughout the show is his increasingly lavish clothing and accessories) and his sidekick Quik Quid, claiming to work on behalf of the evil giant who lives above the clouds.

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Jack and the Beanstalk, though one of the more popular pantomimes, it is done less than say Cinderella, Aladdin or even Dick Whittington. Given that the story involves both a literal giant, a castle in the sky and the growing of a gigantic beanstalk, it is understandable that many theatres, including professional, might take pause when choosing to stage it. Putney Theatre Company, however, is undaunted by these challenges and meets them head-on. And we the audiences are very lucky that they did.

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The new writing team of PTC has created a witty script with many funny jokes and references. Together with an original score, they have been particularly successful in finding the balance between comedy set pieces, storytelling and music. I find that this is a strength that many smaller and local pantomimes often share. Often the larger, professional pantomimes can be a bit too much spectacle with little if any, story or character along the way. (Palladium, I am looking at you.) And in the capable hands of director Jeff Graves and the creative team, the whole piece is staged in a very clever way with many satisfying tricks and surprises along the way. I particularly enjoyed those giant tears. The story in Jack and the Beanstalk ‘trotts’ along nicely with much of the exposition provided in rhyming couplets by the fairy godmother, played by a charming Caroline Slater.

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The songs fit nicely into the story, helping move the story along rather than just being random pop songs just for the sake of it. There were times I struggled to make out the lyrics, which is a bit of shame because what I heard was often quite clever. The backup music provided by a live three-part band on stage, which is a very welcome addition. We have Simon Herd, Dave Herd and Liam Bridgen on guitar, bass and drums respectively. All the songs are of good quality, but the standout musical moments to me were Cowpat’s power ballad dedicated to Buttercup after his beloved cow has been sold, performed with perfect comical sincerity by Lois Saville. Another great song was Jack and Jill’s (Tamara Smith and Eliza Jones respectively) duet as they climb the beanstalk together.

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Ian Fleming is very capable in the Dame role of Mama Trott, the woman struggling both with debt and excessive flatulence. Rounding off the core-characters we have Tim Iredale as the villainous debt-collector Lord Wonga, and Inka Jaroszynki as the hapless but sweet Quik Quid. Iredale is particularly successful in addressing the audience and asides. They both make for an excellent pair of comedy villains. I also quite enjoyed their costume aesthetic, seemingly modelled after silent film era model complete with cloak, the top hat and goatee. I was half expecting a comedy set piece where Mama Trott is tied to a railway track … there is always next year. A definite scene stealer and crowd favourite though was undoubtedly Buttercup the cow, impressively played by Ellen Fife and Emma Fleming. Anyone who can do synchronised jazz while wearing a pantomime cow costume are heroes in my book.

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Jack and the Beanstalk at Putney Arts Theatre prove that you don’t need a huge budget, former X-factor winners or Qdos Entertainment to create a great piece of pantomime. All you need is an efficient, well-written script, clever staging, some catchy song and a cast overflowing with energy and playfulness. Add a generous and willing audience and together they will all create a great evening together where everyone can share laughs, surprises and build that wonderful sense of community in these difficult times. And that boys and girls, is what pantomime is all about.

Melissa Syversen
December 2017

Images by Rich Evans Photography

 

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