Writer/Director: Nik Briggs
Choreographer: Gary Lloyd
Musical Director: Jessica Douglas
York Stage’s pantomime, like any performance at this time, shows plenty of ingenuity in adapting traditional norms to what is acceptable. In this case the staging is crucial, a generously sized traverse between a single row of seats on each side (ground floor and balcony) arranged on a bubble and screen basis.
The concept, too, has to change: the free-wheeling, audience-involving panto style is not really possible. Interestingly, compared with another Jack and the Beanstalk on the go in York (one of the alternatives for The Travelling Pantomime), Nik Briggs chooses to preserve very different elements of the tradition. We have a comically unusual Daisy the Cow and an ingenious, if rather tame, variation on the slop scene, but it’s the spectacular choreography and lavish costumes that are most striking.
The pantomime is advertised as featuring West End performers who are all from Yorkshire and this shows in the glitz and polish of the show as well as some of the over-zealous accents. Even more important, this seems a very young cast and the energy expended is prodigious. Vocally, too, there are some good voices and those that are less pleasing lack nothing in power and range. Athletic dance moves are the norm, not only from the principals, but from an excellent ensemble, much more involved in the storyline than in most pantos, of Matthew Ives, Danielle Mullan and Emily Taylor.
However, all this pizazz comes at a price. Despite the loud laughter echoing from several characters, this pantomime is not particularly funny, though it has its moments, notably a brilliant jumping routine for most of the cast on mini-trampolines. And there is almost no place for by-play with the audience: this is bound to be more limited this year, but the odd ad lib and aside, the occasional picking up of an audience reaction, would have humanised the show.
The opening promises much, with a lovely wry introduction from Mother Nature projected on clouds on the flats at either end of the traverse. She is isolating in Tier 12 and can’t help, but Fairy Mary will take her place. After a brief shouty exchange between Flesh Creep and Mary and two energetic ensemble songs, the appearance of Alex Weatherhill’s stately, cod-operatic Dame Trott, with an entire Yorkshire farm on his dress, is a welcome opportunity to relax. He neatly skewers an audience member as his victim, but never comes back to him later in the course of the panto! Weatherhill is a stylish dame and a much better singer than most, but he’s not subversive like a true dyed-in-the-wool Dame should be!
Jordan Fox as Jack has the necessary air of mischief to go with the songs and the acrobatics – he sees the whole thing is fun, even testing the percussionist’s ability to land the booms and the tings in the right place. Livvy Evans goes happily over the top as Fairy Mary, May Tether is a stalwart Jill, Jack’s girlfriend (Oh yes, she is! – despite Jack’s denials), and Ian Straughair (better known as Velma Celli) is a very camp, if none too menacing, Flesh Creep.
All in all, it’s a dynamic 100 minutes. For those of this reviewer’s generation, the combination of loud singing and shouted dialogue, heavy amplification and a modest-sized venue is a touch unrelenting, but it’s well done – and most potential audience members are a great deal younger!
Runs until 3rd January 2021