Sussex Playwrights Reviews: Jack and the Beanstalk

Jack and the Beanstalk

Hilton Metropole Hotel, Brighton
Produced by David Hill & Lucasz Wojcik for EB
Directed by David Hill
Written by Keris Lea

Something of a novelty for Sussex Playwrights Reviews – our first panto! And our first experience of the Hilton Metropole Hotel as large scale Brighton theatre on a pretty packed last night, its hefty exhibition hall spaces transformed into a full proscenium arch venue with raked seating, and dodgem cars and refreshment stalls in the adjacent hall.

David Rumelle gives us a proper pantomime Dame Trott – now, we’re all connoisseurs, aware of a tradition that goes back centuries and we know EXACTLY what we expect. This Dame’s instantly engaging, full of warmth and fun, with little innuendos in the cheeky seaside postcard style for the parents and never too ‘adult’ content.

Lush vocals and sweet chemistry from Molly Scott as Princess Danielle and Shaun Mendum as Jack, Richard Dawes working the crowd and the stage with hyperactive bounce as Silly Billy, and that Frank’n’furter vibe from Alasdair Buchan’s baddie Fleshcreep had lasting impact.

Some nice technical features, especially the ‘awwww…’ moment snow effect, a neatly integrated E-Biggins as the onscreen King and the clever inflatable beanstalk. The backdrop is a giant screen with each scene projected onto it, which did mean that where the brightest element on stage is the backdrop, the performers themselves sometimes looked a little insignificant. Maybe the characters’ lighting needed pumping up a little for balance, and the show would benefit from more of the smoke and fireworks effects.

It’s written by Fairy Nature actor-singer Keris Lea, who has great family panto credentials. This show bursts with energy and verve, with a riotous ‘if I Were Not Upon The Stage’, an audience participation ‘Baby Shark’ with children on stage, a great hysteria-building it’s-behind-you routine with a ghost, plus some manic water pistol action. The story was over pretty early in the second half, meaning the later set pieces seemed rather tacked on and would have felt more effective woven throughout the show.

The classics are all present and correct – the dancing panto cow, the hissable villain, the snappy routines, quickfire crosstalk – another great reminder we were watching accomplished performers tapping into traditions we can trace through music hall, and much further back, and by joining in we were part of that tradition ourselves.
And of course, the bang up to date references – social media, reality TV, pop songs and a little light politics, including a green theme – and the actors’ imminent unemployed status.

Costume hits included a ten feet tall muppet-style Giant, an intricately insane Dame wardrobe, and a rather gorgeous shimmery leafy gown and fairylit staff for Fairy Nature.

There’s great support from triple-threat actor singer dancers and a charming children’s troupe, and I only realised it was a live band tucked away up on the balcony when I noticed the tip of a guitar head moving. Logistics don’t always allow of course, but I’d have loved to have had the band integrated into the show, down the front where the musical director could interact with the performers.

In all, a big Christmas treat for the whole family – adults far outnumbered kids at the last performance, which just shows we’ll never grow out of enjoying well-produced, fresh, funny and fast traditional panto.

Next production for Christmas 2019: Peter Pan.

Philippa Hammond