Jack and the Beanstalk - panto review

When you go to a panto, there are certain things that are encouraging signs of a good show to come. For me, how they make you feel welcome in the foyer is one such thing, and in this, 'Jack and the Beanstalk' at the Hexagon in Reading managed to make a concerted effort with their festive and very green decor. An obvious sign is when the kids are happy, and so they were.

Now we all know the vast potential for getting the formula wrong, don't we? The dodgy performances from those who can't act or lack personality. Well there was never a chance of that with this performance. I was really impressed by the professionalism, engagement with the audience and sense of fun from the leading cast. You know that big names such as Debbie McGee and Ken Morley are going to deliver the goods with wit and charm, backed up by years of experience. However, this was also true of the rest of the players. Not only that, they all interacted well on stage.

The part of Jack went to Emma Barton, and she was well suited to the role. She had great thigh slapping presence; singing and dancing very well. Really shining I thought.

Other highs were Richard Morse as Fleshcreep. He looked and sounded good as a rockabilly-goth panto villain and really entertained the audience, who themselves got into the traditional spirit: 'He's behind you!'

Ken Morley held court as the King with a clumsy and endearing authority. He was my favorite character. Whilst Debbie McGee kept proceedings on track as The Fairy, acting as a kind of mistress of ceremonies with great elan.

Also, Jon Clegg as Simple Simon (Jack's brother) was a good comic foil to Paul Morse's 'Madame Trot' who was Jack and Simple Simon's Mother.

Morse's traditional Panto Dame inevitably stole the show at times, complete in-your-face dialogue and elaborate colourful outfits and numerous costume changes

The rapport between 'Madame Trot' and Simple Simon was particularly good, and the resulting slapstick antics were clearly popular with the children in the audience. Although I thought that the visual jokes were great fun, they did drag the story out a bit too much. But that's a small point and seemed of no consequence to the audience here; small and large kids alike.

I thought the songs were well chosen, and choreography excellent. Adrian Edmeades and Colin Billing please stand up! Also, the stage sets and costumes were festive and fun, in addition to being well designed with the usual jokey fare. Puns don't come much better than 'Vin de Loo' for a pub surely? But the real highlight in terms of props was the giant. The sheer skill in manipulating such a large figure by Niki Burné and Dean Burné on such a small stage was really something.

So, an excellent production worth seeing if you want a bit of cheer this Christmas.

(c) G Hall 2013


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