Jack & the Beanstalk – A Review

Posted on December 11, 2023, in: Uncategorized

He’s behind you! Oh no, he isn’t, the director of the Wharf’s panto this year, John Winterton is right in front of me, and we’re having a cuppa in the foyer!

John makes a point, pantomime is an introduction to theatre for many. I can identify, my first experience at a show being an annual amateur panto which included my younger cousin’s dance group. Showing how slim my credentials for reviewing a pantomime are, the only other one I’ve seen was decades later when we took our kids to see Peter Pan at the Bath Royal; but I know what I like and liked what I saw.

And to question the need to write this at all, being tickets are near sold out anyway; this serves to say to those without tickets, you’re missing out, and to golden ticket holders, you’re in for a fantastic treat.

Doubting my decision to attend somewhat, prior to the show. I’m a grumpy old sausage without any need of drag queen clichés, Carry-On titillation, and booing the baddie. Oh boy, did they turn my frown upside down.

Starter for ten, Jack and the Beanstalk at Devizes’ gem of a theatre contains all fundamental elements of pantomime, a loose narrative to distract from, drag, subtle smut, nonsensical comedy, breaking the fourth wall, patchwork clowns and loveable animal characters, parodies of pop songs, fairytale romance, song and dance. Save perhaps the archetypal celebrity. But who needs a Keith Chegwin or Ian from Eastenders when fourteen year old Jess Self takes the lead role of Jack, for if she’s no celebrity yet, she’s a bona-fide star.

This is where I need to take care not to add spoilers, plus note some imagination was required as this was a dress rehearsal and audience participation is key to pantomime above all others. The latter is easier than it sounds, being a big kid at heart, families, I guarantee will love this in equal measure.

To the nitty-gritty, writer Oliver Phipps has created an offbeat tribute to the folkloric fairy-tale which in essence deviates whimsically for comic scope rather than rolls traditional narrative, and tends to be mindful you’re watching a play in Devizes with local references and self-deprecating gags.

There’s atypical charming and fun characters to bounce off Jack, key to this performance is the apt casting. Oliver casts himself as the drag Dame Dotty, mother of Jack, and detonates exuberance and wit. Other notable comic creations to bind this perfect synergy is the Arlecchino patchwork clown Silly Simon, a brother of Jack’s eccentricity played by Oliver Beech, a lovably simpleton cow called Pat (geddit?) who, though we shouldn’t otherwise name-call but in this instance there’s no better way of saying, Jemma Gingell perfects the cow! And the most universal comic character, the egotistical and game show host wannabe, Spirit of the Beans, played immaculately by Jax Brady.

Other than dancers, Berrie Mildenhall, Jamie Linsley, Sienna Swain, Oliva Hibbert, Belle Stalham, and Fleur Brewer, villagers, Helen Pritchard, Ben Bryan, Poppi Lamb-Hughes and youngest actor Lucas Dowling at ten years-old, Jill, the princess love interest, played delightfully by Georgina Claridge, and villainess to boo Mrs Blunderbore, played wickedly by Hayley Baxter, all characters are comically forged, which gets my approval. Even the king and queen, so often not in pantos, are funny, acted by Corrin Barbieri and, down-to-his-jimmy-jams, Adam Sturges, respectively.

If you’re looking for a profound delineation of orthodox folklore, committed to chronicle and honour an original plot, then this isn’t for you, but if you’re not a bore, and seek true kooky panto, with genius wordplay, if you want to guffaw and giggle, sing and get involved, well, this is perfect, and you’ll have a great time. I only mention this in remembrance of my Dad, who came over all Mr Spock after every panto, groaning logic, things like, “it could’ve been coincidence the glass slipper happened to fit,” or “why didn’t Aladdin ask the genie for another three wishes as his last wish?” Pantomime is fantastical and not for overthinking, forgoing continuity and logic, this one is fantastic and matches the description.

Another crucial point of the joys of the humble Wharf Theatre, which came up in chatting with John in the foyer, was that if I bit the bullet of expense and went up the Westend to see a show, sure I’d have an unforgettable evening, but I go for the show’s title, couldn’t now recall the name of the theatre. John delighted in telling me he recognised the same faces, regulars who sit in the same seats. They come for the Wharf’s reputation; I wonder if city theatres could boast the same. The simple fact is, while the Wharf is communal, local, and affordable, it may well be amateur but strides at Neil Armstrong lengths to produce quality shows. Above glitz and glamour of Broadway, what The Wharf compares with, and prioritises, is heart.

Author: Darren Worror Devizine

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