This year All Saints’ Dramatic Society incorporated many of those pantomime traditions we know and love into their fun-packed version of Jack and the Beanstalk. I admit pantomime is my favourite stage genre and I was not disappointed. Written by Douglas Eyre and co-directed by Victoria Liechti, the script promises plenty of the ‘aww’ factor, enough eye-rolling puns to keep your dad going for the year and a few unique catchphrases for the audience to bounce back and forth with the cast alongside the more traditional “it’s behind you!”
In the role of the eponymous Jack, Rachel Forsdike (I appreciate the traditional gender roles here!) was powerful and confident, making the audience at ease with her command of the dialogue and stage. Forsdike sung beautifully alongside Ella Josey (Jack’s love interest, Jill). The pair demonstrated accomplished harmony work in songs ‘A Million Dreams’ and ‘I’ve Been Waiting for You’, likely aided by veteran musical director Alastair Hume.
Offering plenty of comedic prowess, Tony Edwards excels as pantomime dame and Jack’s eccentric mother, Hilda Crumpet. (A special mention to the wardrobe, set and make-up departments here for bringing this essential pantomime character to life successfully). Brian Foley holds his own against Hilda as the dame’s unlucky love interest, The Baron of Wickpherie. Similarly, Nina Eyre returns to the same part as the Fairy she took over forty years ago to offer older audiences an empathetic, enjoyable version of ‘Nobody Loves a Fairy When She’s Forty’. Alongside dame and fairy, it was also refreshing to see a traditional pantomime cow, now missing in many professional productions, portrayed by synchronised Sue Josey and Sue Nicholls.
To compensate for the lack of a ‘Buttons-esque’ character (a character which would have been demanding of a very charismatic actor with a seamless ability to improvise with audience members), Jon Cockeram and James Webb stepped into the roles of Boris and Arthur respectively, with comedy formed through their well-rehearsed Laurel and Hardy slapstick routines. Likewise, Jenni French and Rosie Hodgkinson are well cast as comedic double act Gilly and Tilly Crumpet who often aim lines at the more mature audiences: “O-M-G with a G-N-T!”
Unfortunately, the presence of the ‘baddie’ was somewhat missing; I personally would have enjoyed many more chances to boo and hiss a character off the stage! However, John Sivewright is perfect as the ‘annoying’ Bailiff. Half villain, half ‘silly-billy,’ Sivewright demonstrates his acting ability by getting the audience onside with his bumbling portrayal. I would have liked to have seen more of the intimidating act two villain of the Ogre, portrayed by Tim Calvert; the costume here is a treat, described by audience members as ‘horrible’ and ‘snotty.’ Attending his master, Ian Bray gives an aura of Frankenstein’s Igor to his characterisation of The Guard.
There are plenty more cameo roles on offer, though the most memorable parts have to go to the adorable Emilia Cann as Henrietta the gold-egg-laying hen who led her Benny Hill inspired routine confidently and Tyee Dellow who consistently stands out in all choreographed chorus numbers and wowed audiences with his tap-dance solo in ‘We’re in the Money’ and act two ballet duet, the latter performed with equally accomplished Clara Fassinger. I look forward to seeing more of each as they make the transition from amateur productions to professional.
Overall, I left ASDS’ Jack and the Beanstalk with a smile on my face. Writer Douglas Eyre cleverly incorporated shortened versions of lively songs to ensure young audiences stayed interested whilst offering plenty of moments aimed at the ‘bigger’ kids – particularly the sing-a-long ‘Lily the Pink’ and ‘The Marrow Song’. The society did very well with what they had – particularly when constructing the beanstalk itself (the creative decision to have the youngest members of the cast portray its overnight growing in an atmospheric routine was fantastic). The main cast was well supported by a fantastic chorus in the group numbers, choreographed by Lauren Turner and Hayley Dellow. Everyone gave their all throughout and hopefully I will be able to see various individuals in the chorus given their moments to shine in future productions. Whilst microphone issues were not avoided, this was not to the detriment of the overall performance. Funny, entertaining and feel-good. Well done!
Performances Saturday 5th and Saturday 12th at 2pm and 7pm, Friday 11th at 7.30pm and Sunday 6th at 1pm and 5pm. Tickets; £12 adults, concessions £10 and £6.