JACK AND THE BEANSTALK
adapted by by Ben Crocker
Directed by Neil Tranmer and Laura Kay
Burnley Pantomime Society
As John Morley wrote, “British pantomime audiences are wonderfully eccentric and will accept even the zaniest ideas, providing they are done in the traditional way, with all the corny jokes, over-the-top characters, and invitations for audience participation that they have enjoyed all their lives.”
There are a number of long-established conventions that have to be observed: attractive scenery, lavish costumes, singing and dancing, magic, exciting action, romance, and – most important of all – broad comedy of all kinds (both verbal and physical).
These we had in abundance from Burnley Pantomime Society and the full houses enjoyed by the company were testament to the success of this pantomime.
Although it took a little time before the classic story of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ began to unfold (a fault of the script – not the performers) we were taken on that familiar story of selling a cow for magic beans, which then grew to provide a stairway to the giant’s kingdom.
During the prologue we were introduced, with a burst of stars, to Good Fairy Edena, played by Jamie-Leigh Hindman. Thoroughly at home in her role, Edena soon had the audience on her side when confronting Bad Fairy, Madame Slime, played by Kayleigh Hindle, who came on stage to much hissing and booing by the audience. With its touch of magic illuminated by a broken wand (the bad fairy’s) and then the expanding wand (the good fairy’s) we were soon off on our pantomime journey. These were two excellent performances, by two experienced actors who excel at the type of comedy necessary for pantomime.
The impoverished King Bertram, portrayed by David Kendrick, together with his sidekick, Flunkit (played by Leighton Hunt) moved the story on at a cracking pace. Again, two experienced performers, they were thoroughly at home on the stage and soon had the audience on their side. That taxes were going to have to be raised to pay the demands by the Giant did not go down well with the villagers, however, and this led the storyline into the predicament that was to befall Dame Trot and Simple Simon. Kevin Kay, as Dame Trot, is one of the finest pantomime dames I have seen for some time, thoroughly at home in his role, with perfect timing, and with an ability to engage with an audience immediately he sets foot on stage. Jonathan Pye, as Simple Simon, was the perfect pairing to the dame. Jonathan never stopped working the audience and the exhortations by the audience to “be brave, Simon”, rang out every time he displayed any hint of being scared. This was another excellent portrayal.
To raise funds to stave off being evicted from their home, Daisy, the cow, had to be sold. In this pantomime we had a superb cow, brought to life by Sian Maymond and Hannah Rigby. Perfectly timed steps, and slick, choreographed movements, Daisy was very much a character in her own right. Superb performance from both Hannah and Sian.
All pantomimes have a love interest and in ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, it was between Princess Rose, played by Louise Young, and Jack Trot, played by Gary Leonard. This was a superb pairing and the two performers created two very believable characters despite the gap in their status; she was of royal blood and he was the lowest of the low commoners. It was very evident that the two were meant for each other, but when Princess Rose was demanded as a bride by the Giant, in lieu of unpaid taxes, we just knew that Jack was not going to take this situation lying down.
In the second act we finally met Giant Blunderbore. Having only heard his booming “Fee Fi Fo Fum” in the first act, we visualised a big, big giant. And so it turned out to be. He was fearsome and very, very big. In the skin of the puppet was Paul Jackson. The Giant’s voice was provided in stentorian tones by Martin Chadwick and would most definitely have had the uninvited visitors to his castle quaking with fear.
It was during this act that the dancers really came into their own, becoming ghosts and demons, and frightening Simon, Jack, et al, in the scenes where the villagers were exploring the castle. The children in the audience were totally involved with all that went on shouting, “It’s behind you”, and warning of impending disaster. The scenes moved at a terrific pace, were well choreographed and moved the story along.
With 32 members of the chorus and dancers, a cast of 11, the choreography and movement had to work seamlessly, and it did. Very many congratulations to Lynn McCheyne, Amanda Swinburn and Jenna Maden on a superb presentation. The stage never looked over-crowded and everyone knew exactly what each of them had to do. Jessica Whittaker, as chorus trainer, is also to be congratulated on producing such a well-disciplined company.
Jonathan Chalker, and his combo with Justin Proudman and Mark Bottomly, were always on cue and it was everything that one comes to expect from a live band.
The scenery was excellent. Designed by David “Wally” Walton, the 15 scenes were seamlessly changed by Ken Hardwick and his superb backstage team. The sound and lighting designs, in the hands of Lea Royse and Elodie Perrier (sound) and Paddy Keane (lighting) were the standard one comes to expect from this excellent pantomime society.
The costumes, by Molly Limpets and Lesley Johnstone, were gorgeous, extremely colourful, appropriate and well designed.
The props team also is to be congratulated on wonderful properties.
In its fortieth year, Burnley Pantomime Society presentations are on a level with most professional companies. It is testament to the success of its presentations that its shows are sell-out performances.
Congratulations, Neil Tranmer and Laura Kay on a superb production. This was a pantomime that had everything one expects from this very British of institutions.
Thank you for your very warm hospitality.