Jack and The Beanstalk
Folks – it’s been several hours now and my tears have dried, but my phantasmagorical face is still really hurting.
I enjoyed last year’s panto at Greenwich Theatre, but I was slightly disappointed after the triumph of the year before. There was something slightly out-of-kilter with the story and the entire budget seemed to have gone on the dame’s outfits.
But this year – this year, they are back up to form with an energy that is going to make this review look like I’m a raving lunatic. Perhaps I am. But I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much (well, actually I can – it was Greenwich Theatre’s 2006 panto. The vision of the good fairy belting out Holding Out For A Hero flanked by henchmen in knitted chain mail, eclipsed only by the arsing-around of the comedy characters behind the obligatory soppy lovers’ duet still keeps everyone chez Phantom giggling two years later.)
If there are any panto-phobes actually reading this review, I’m sorry – but I have to get this out of my system. Pantomime is something you love or hate – slop scenes, bad jokes, bouncing balls and screaming kiddies. But I’m convinced that the reason a lot of people detest pantomime is because there are so many bad ones about. This is a good one.
What I love about the annual Greenwich Panto is that it is the classic two-levels writing – silly gags for the kiddies, topical references for the grown-ups (I can hardly call them ‘adults’) but it never gets sordid like so many commercial productions. There’s not a TV star among the cast (well – it’s possible the junior leads are famous, but I didn’t recognise them. Sorry.)
The actors aren’t luvvies slumming-it, either. I saw the Ian McKellen Aladdin, and although he was a triumph, the production sucked – clearly written by people who thought they were better than their commission.
These guys are clearly creating – and know they are creating – something classy – it may be for children but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be tacky.
It’s fast – really fast – the wafer-thin story’s clear enough for even the tiniest to understand, but the ideas and jokes pile on top of each other so quickly that you don’t have time to stop laughing at one before the next one comes along.
I have two fave characters, as ever. The dame (of course) Andrew Pollard, who writes the show with genuine wit and a lot of silliness. The gags are old, but re-told with such glee that the tears just rolled down my cheeks. I actually worried a pregnant friend down the row would go into labour. Dame Trot is sharp – but not unkind. We were treated to a high-speed re-cap of events-so-far for a guy who arrived late – but it was sweet, rather than humiliating. And her costumes, as always, are absurd in the extreme.
My other favourite is the Dame’s usual sidekick, Paul Critoph, who always plays the daft-king character. This year he was ‘King Boris’ with appropriate bleach-blonde hairdo. It’s a tough job, being a jolly-old-soul stereotype, but Critoph plays it with a vigour that makes what is usually a minor character into a star.
“Three years at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School…” quips the dame to a ‘yoghurt’-covered Boris in the traditional slop-scene.
“My parents are so proud,” he replies. Long may those two reign.
Even the ingenues are great – the usually soppy juve-leads have been chosen for cracking voices and – heavens – acting abilities.
Nobody – from the jolly fairy to the wonderfully spider-like baddie – gives the impression they’re only doing it for the cash – which so many of the commercial jobbies do, and no one takes the piss out of the material – or plays in-jokes, another traditional problem. They just radiate that they’re having a ball – in one case, literally – though I won’t spoil the deliriously silly ballet-sequence by describing it here.
Nor will I spoil the extraordinary Act One finale by even attempting to tell you what they do to a rock classic, save that at that stage it occured to me that Freddie Mercury missed his calling…
Why can’t Greenwich Theatre come up with such great stuff throughout the year? Some of their other fare has been decidedly patchy (ahem, The Secret Agent, ahem…) but material this sophisticated – and yes, I chose my words carefully – shows they can do it.
It probably helps that they’ve chucked a real, live budget at it. Just when I thought I must have seen every penny on stage, a special effect arrived that was jaw-dropping. Or maybe I should say jaw-chomping…
In fact, I loved everything, with the one exception of the chorus girls’ costumes – singularly unflattering – perhaps they were prototypes for the dame’s outfits that didn’t pass muster so they were passed down…
I don’t know how fast tickets are selling – I guess they can work out a tad pricey for the whole family but there are different rates available (we were cheap enough to go on one of their discount nights…) but if you are looking for something to lift the economic gloom for a couple of hours, you could do a lot worse than this. Go – leave your cynicism at the door – and enjoy. And don’t worry if you don’t know any small people to take. There are lots of groups of adults in there alongside the brownies and schoolchildren.
Look out for the detail too – the chorus must have studied the Greased Lightning sequence from Grease for hours to get it so accurate. Given the constraints, of course. John Travolta didn’t have to soup-up a pantomime cow…