North East & YorkshirePantomimeReview

Jack and the Beanstalk – Theatre Royal, Wakefield

Writer:  Chris Hannon

Director: Rhiannon Hannon

Musical Director: Jim Lunt

Choreographer: Louise Denison

Designer: Mark Walters

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

In the best possible way, you know what you’re going to get with the Wakefield pantomime: more or less traditional, pacy and polished production, a talented cast of no more than eight, a first-class dame in Chris Hannon, glitteringly witty front cloths and cut-outs from Mark Walters, Jim Lunt making three musicians go a long way in the pit and an excellent chorus of children and teenagers given their head to do more than just dance prettily (though they do that very well!).

This year it’s the mixture as before, but with a little inspired tweaking. Chris Hannon is donning the crazy gowns and elaborate head-dresses for the tenth time at Wakefield, but for the first time he has written the show, too, and you don’t need to read his programme note to know that he has, in his own words, “put a spin” on the story.

Things don’t begin with a fairy spouting couplets, but with Old Rosemary in her allotment, down to earth, ecologically sound and a great believer in the unexpected. Actually she does get a few rhymes to introduce the story, but in Tracy Collier’s forthright performance Rosemary is a force to be reckoned with, giving Jack the beans in exchange for Daisy the cow (cute, but uncredited!) in the belief that they will solve every problem. 

Then there is what Hannon correctly describes as “not a typical panto character”, Sir Bertie the Brave, gung-ho and cowardly with it. In a rather stronger story-line than is often the case, the dastardly Gretel von Greed (Victoria Nicol in full snarling and sneering mode) is using the Giant to terrorise the folk of Quakefield (of course!) into paying excessive rent and Sir Bertie has been hired by King Peregrine to protect the kingdom – but Bertie is the secret ally of Gretel! Chris Durtnal’s foolishly posturing, reliably untrustworthy Sir Bertie is a surprisingly modern figure, despite the knight errant image.

Sam Nixon’s Jack is as likeable as he is supposed to be – and less foolish than is often the case, except in his admiration for Sir Bertie: Jack is his squire, but it doesn’t seem to involve much more than a jolly duet or two. Chloe Proctor’s Princess Primrose is in the welcome modern tradition of Principal Girls, bold and high-spirited rather than helplessly beautiful.

Rhiannon Hannon’s direction conceals precision under a warm-hearted glow and manages to be free-wheeling as well as slick. Variants on familiar routines include the most manic Twelve Days of Christmas yet (with very silly word changes) including an inspired piece of audience participation. 

Much of the free-wheeling is in the hands of last year’s Ugly Sisters, Chris Hannon still in drag as Tilly Trott, Jack’s mother, and Christopher Chilton, re-gendered and elevated to the monarchy as King Peregrine. They form an irresistible comic duo, Hannon the master of asides, ad-libs and false innocence, careering round the stage apparently out of control, Chilton a quivering mass (he is a very well padded king) of naive self-importance and ornithological information, both expert in playing to, and involving, the audience.

Runs until January 5, 2020 | Image: Robling Photography 

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Polished and Warm-Hearted

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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