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Jack and the Beanstalk

by on 25 January 2020

Bean and Gone

Jack and the Beanstalk

by Jackie Howting

Edmundian Players at Cheray Hall, Whitton until 25th January

Review by Mary Stoakes

Edmundian Players belong to a diminishing group of Richmond upon Thames amateur dramatic societies who perform in what is designated by Arts Richmond as a ‘non-dedicated theatrical environment’, i.e. a church hall or similar. These venues usually present with a small stage area, often with little or no wing space, seating which has to be erected nightly, limited changing facilities and little storage room for props and scenery, elaborate costumes appear miraculously, often revamped from charity shops. Edmundians’ pantomimes are a prime example of the excellent and entertaining work which is produced on a very small budget under these difficult conditions year on year.

For 2020 it was the turn of Jack and the Beanstalk. One of the joys of reviewing pantomimes is that there is no need to relate the familiar story. However this adaptation, written specially by Jackie Howting to reflect the energy and enthusiasm of the cast, 18 out of 24 of whom were aged fourteen or under, did contain one or two novel twists and characters which delighted the audience.

Rope Routine

The young cast was energetically directed by Jessica Young who was also joint producer with Ellen Walker-DiBella and responsible for the choreography. Jessica was also the scenic artist for the show, producing striking, modern and colourful back cloths for the many scenes. She was ably supported in set building and beanstalk realisation by Dave and Paula Young, together with the versatile Alan Smith.   Musical director Paul Wiz Baker not only arranged the music but created many new compositions and,  whom one suspects, was responsible for the effective and fearsome Giant’s footsteps and snores. The sound and lighting management for the beanstalk and the demise of the Giant were very evocative and resulted in gasps from the younger members of the enthusiastic audience.

IMG_20200112_151414~2Somewhat surprisingly, the opening scene, A place to unwind and relax, was revealed as a colourful beach on a Greek island where Jack (14 year old Charlie McMaster) and his Mother Dame Trot (Dave Young) were on holiday with a group of mainly young children who formed a strong and well drilled chorus of family and friends. Dave’s pastiche of the song Price Tag demonstrated once again his locally-famed skill as a pantomime dame.

Jo &DashOn our return to ‘Wickenham’ we were introduced to some new characters, Dash (Gary Evans) and Joe (Becky Halden) as the as the Debt Collectors working for the Giant. We also met Bertha Blunder (the Giant’s sister – Ellen Walker-DiBella) with a penchant for pizzas and a comically terrifying laugh. All three actors played an entertaining part in the action, with Becky’s expert comBertha,Dash & Joeic timing and reactions being particularly notable as they struggled with various mishaps and difficulties.

It was good to see Jack played by a teenage boy instead of the usual female ‘Principal boy’. Although we missed some of the swashbuckle and thigh- slapping of females in this rôle, Charlie personified the gullibility and hesitation of the character perceptively and his performance grew in stature as the panto progressed, especially when encouraged by the young chorus in The Only Way Is Up! Clare Blake was suitably demure as Jack’s girlfriend, Cathy.

As ever, one of the stars of this panto was Daisy the cow, expertly steered around the small stage by Kayleigh Spencer and Isabel Espi and involved in an amusing milking, or lack of milking, scene with Dame Trot and Jack.

Cow

After an interval with free ice creams for the lucky starred programme holders, Act Two took Jack and the audience to the Giant’s Castle. Here we met the Housekeeper (Theresa McCulloch) who was joined by a chorus of rats in a charming version of The Lion (Giant) Sleeps Tonight. The rats, Imogen Goddard, Aoife Kingsland, Saoirse Kingston and Evie Nunn, featured large in this act, deftly demonstrating their prowess in Irish dance and their ubiquity in the panto routine of He’s behind you. Mention should also be made of the excellent way they stayed in character throughout, even when not directly involved in the action, as indeed did young Evelyn Schaapveld as the Hen who had extreme difficulty in laying the requisite number of golden eggs.

After a cloud fight and an old-style cinema chase around the stage, led by Becky Halden, the Giant was slain with the help of some audience participation, unusually in the form of syncopated clapping. All ended happily and once again we were back on the colourful beach, A place to unwind and relax for the wedding of Jack and Cathy and a couple of rousing final choruses.

Author Jackie Howting incorporated many jokes into the script – some of which deserve to be immortalised in any definitive History of the Pantomime, if not there already. One sample:

Housekeeper – I’m going to make Jack some gold soup.

Dash – How to you make gold soup?

Housekeeper: Just put in 18 carats!

This was an entertaining pantomime, much appreciated by the large audience. Without being in the least patronising, one could say that this is good, slightly old–fashioned ‘am dram’ at its best and the Edmundian Players are to be congratulated in carrying on this great British tradition.

Mary Stoakes
January 2020

Photography by Juliette Wait

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