Wayne Sleep heads the Jack and the Beanstalk cast – photo Credit Simon Finlay Photography
Norwich Theatre Royal has enjoyed a long period of success and stability over the last two decades, a success that is helped in no small measure by the seat-filling magic of the annual pantomime production.
With audiences expectations of performers driven ever higher by TV and film influences it could be seen as a tough call for producers and directors to raise the bar ever higher in the challenge of filling seats for what is usually the biggest event of the Theatre year. Producer Jane Walsh and Director, Writer and Star Dame Richard Gauntlett have once again risen to the challenge with style and energy.
The basic tale of Jack, the giant, a cow and a few beans is well known but Gauntlett adds a new twist with a Wild West setting for the story. Cue lots of big hats, leather chaps and saloon beauties, and a bit of bad behaviour from a villain searching for the gold buried deep on Dame Nigella Trottalot’s farm. The villain (Phineas P Stinkworthy, aka Stinky Pete) is brought to life by the tiny but energetic Wayne Sleep who clearly relishes the business of generating booes and hisses as he sets out to take over and destroy the quiet frontier town of Nodge City. Needless to say, the very idea that a pantomime villain could succeed in an American setting is daft – can Phineas trump reality? Wayne Sleep adds his characteristic dancing brilliance to a feature packed show.
Nigella (Gauntlett) and her sons Jack (David Burilin) and the hapless Silly Billy (Ben Langley) have to battle with Phineas to save their farm, Daisy the cow and several little chicks. As ever the comic duo of Langley and Gauntlett is at the heart of this production, with plenty of slapstick and quick witted repartee, some of it even in the script. They like big costumes, getting the audience going and a bit of song and dance, but most of all they seem to relish getting very messy. Very messy. There is also a reference back to the surprise star of last year’s Snow White show, Greta the goat. I have a feeling that this running joke will expand as the season progresses!
Meanwhile the wistful Jack keeps trying to propose to his childhood sweetheart Jolene Hiccup (Mira Ormala) amidst the distractions of all the action. They are helped along their way by the Fairy Dolly (Harriet Bunton) who flies around the stage dispensing Western wisdom and a big dose of magic. Sheriff Phil Hiccup, Jolene’s dad is given an authoritative demeanour by perhaps our unlikeliest supermodel, the white bearded David Gant.
The seven principles all give a great performance, but are upstaged a little bit by the very productive Daisy, pantomime cow extraordinaire, and upstaged a lot by the chickens, an engaging lot of little future stars from the Central School of Dancing and Performing Arts. The kids are brilliantly choreographed, but the smallest and cutest one has a starring role all of her own and is an audience favourite. With three different sets of these panto babes rehearsals must be hard work, but the effort pays off and they steal the show.
In keeping with the Hollywood feel of the Western theme the show climaxes in some classy ‘Nodge Vegas’ dance routines. Plenty of audience interaction helps to keep pantomime tradition alive and well, but the show has the style and feel of a big budget musical production. This is a panto that leaves the audience wanting a bit more, with a top notch cast, great music and lavish production. It is a gentle and joyful show for all the family and the young (and young at heart) around me in the audience were enthusiastic participants in the ‘call and response’ business that defines the best of British Pantomime. Take a break from the rigours of Christmas shopping and book into this delightful show – just make sure that if you are travelling by car you leave an extra half an hour to enjoy queueing in Norwich’s ever-shrinking road network on your way to the theatre.
Jack And The Beanstalk, Tuesday 13 December 2016-Sunday 15 January 2017. Tickets £7-£23.50. Under-threes free. Discounts for Friends, Over-60s, Under-18s and Groups. Signed performances on Saturday 7 Jan at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Audio-described performances on Wednesday 4 Jan at 1pm and Saturday 7 Jan at 2.30pm. Captioned performance on Sunday 8 Jan at 1pm and 5pm. Relaxed performance on Friday 13 Jan at 5.30pm which is bookable in person or by phone on 01603 630000
To book, log onto www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call the box office on 01603 630000.