Writer: Alan McHugh
Additional material: Aaron James and Matt Slack
Director and choreographer: Nick Winston
Oh yes, it has. Panto time has come round again, and it’s off to a flying start with Jac and the Beanstalk at the New Theatre, Cardiff. From the moment that the curtains open the audience is in for a treat. This is panto as it should be, managing to tick the traditional boxes, yet getting it right to be enjoyed to the full by the demands of the today’s audiences.
Once again, the New Theatre- celebrating 117 years since it opened in 1906 and Cardiff s oldest surviving theatre- proves it really knows how to do panto.
The fairy tale of the poor country boy who trades in Daisy the family’s favourite cow (well done to the actors inside Daisy – hilarious!) for a handful of magic beans which produce a giant beanstalk is brought to life with a talented cast, plus special effects galore, beautiful costumes, music and of course audience participation. On opening night there were one or two cases where the quick-fire repartee that is part and parcel of panto went on a tad too long, but overall, a great evening.
With the diminutive firecracker Lesley Joseph, who so many remember as neighbour next-door Dorien Green in the TV comedy series Birds of a Feather still available on TV), as the Spirit of the Bean, plus panto’s favourite Dame the iconic Mike Doyle as Jac’s mother Dame Trot, aided and abetted by funny man of the piece Silly Simon, played by Aaron James, how could it fail to work? And work it does. Despite now having reached well over bus pass age, Joseph not only delivers her lines with evident relish for the role, but sings – not surprising if you saw her recently as Mother Superior in Sister Act in Cardiff) – as well as showing off
a pair of shapely legs in the dance numbers.
As for Doyle – panto in Cardiff owes much to his talent over the years. Long may he continue to entertain audiences here. Now we come to Jac – and in case you are wondering why the ‘k’ has been left off, this is the Welsh version of the name, appropriately as Jac is played by musical theatre’s Adam Bailey who comes from Penarth in South Wales. As the romantic lead Bailey sings tunefully particularly in his duets with Princess Jill (Denquar Chupak) the girl of Jac’s dreams. The story centres around the romance between them and Jac’s journey to rescue Jill from the clutches of the wicked Giant who lives in the Beanstalk but also from Fleshcreep, the villain of the piece. Played with expertise and wearing a scary facemask (how many will remember where and when they last saw that mask?!) by the multi-talented Steve Arnott, this Fleshcreep sends shivers down the spine throughout, the focus being on him rather than the Giant who does not come to life until later.
Unlike most productions of this story, the Beanstalk of the title hardly appears. As for the Giant and his lair –while not wishing to write in detail for fear of it being a spoiler, it is allowable to reveal that video and other digital devices are used to great effect, with some surprise elements. As for the jokes – a few naughty ones of a lavatorial nature but harmless enough. The talented ensemble dressed in great costumes dance with enthusiasm and expertise, while music throughout, under the direction of Mike Morwood on the
keyboards, is great. Full of links to Wales and its capital city (there is even a scene set in ‘Ye olde panto
kingdom of Caerdydd’), a panto for all ages. And it lasts for only two hours
instead of the usual two and a half!
Runs until Sunday, January 7 th 2024