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Jack And The Beanstalk: New Wimbledon Theatre

December 13, 2017

(Seen at the afternoon performance on 9th December 2017).

The week before last’s blog was a personal “wish list” of things that make the only form of theatre that I take deadly seriously, special. I rather wonder if Qdos Pantomimes read it… because this year Wimbledon’s show pretty much ticked the lot. Fun-packed, shiny cast… sweets thrown… yay!

The marquee name this year is Al “Pub Landlord” Murray, and I can only say that it was a real pleasure to be there and witness him lose his “panto cherry” (but find an apple – “in” joke, cough up for a ticket). Can he do “family entertainment.” Oh yes, he can. He really, really can – and he clearly loved doing so. Quick wit, his initial slight hesitancy made it even better as he grew in confidence at every moment. Compare and contrast to the odious Jarred Christmas of two years ago (and yes, I will keep bringing it up for so long as Wimbledon fail to give a written guarantee it’ll never happen again). Mr Murray should clear his diary for many Christmases to come. He has earned his place behind the panto bar, and is now licensed to serve seasonal mirth at all hours.

Import from Hackney Empire Clive Rowe (Dame Trot) really needs no introduction. Widely acclaimed as one of the best in the business, with more multicoloured outfits than Joseph, more bounce than Tigger and a lustiness to make Madonna look like an untouched… anyway, if you are handsome and in the front stalls be afraid, be very afraid (also those with attractively spiky hair – ho, ho, dear Dad). Everybody else just relax and bring a waterproof cover to protect the seat, out of courtesy for the next occupant.

Liam Tamne (Jack Trot) is best known to me from two successful fringe events this year. He can add Panto Leading Boy to the list. Brave, a singer, dancer and nicely timed comic, it’s no wonder Charlotte Gooch (Princess Apricot) said… again, buy a ticket. Gooch makes her Apricot a peach.

The fair panto princess of your dreams, with a nice streak of resistance in the only slightly questionable scene (Weinstein, perhaps not appropriate this year).

Equally strong, Spirit of the Beans (Robyn Mellor) has a voice that almost stops the show, and a lovely opportunity to demonstrate it.

With Fleshcreep (revoltingly scary to go with the other bit of his name, John Jack) the pair had the difficult task of opening proceedings, and managed to bond with the audience enough to make the next opening choral number go with a swing.

That itself is worthy of mention. Ken Dodd always maintains a show should open on a “happy village.” We get it, and this year’s ensemble – Pamela Blair, Taylor Bruce, Emilie Hope, Bronte Lavine, Gareth Moran, Jessica Oakman, Christopher Ribz-Gordon and Ross Russell are as talented and energetic a bunch as you will find. Particularly attractive too, with one exception (just teasing, but I like to put that in, as it worries the lot of them in the dressing room for the rest of the run).

A nod too to the Babes of South London Dance Studios, who double as a wonderful farmyard.

Not since the Peter Hall years at the National Theatre have I attended two productions by the same director in a single week. After an appropriately seasonal haunting with “The Woman In White” at the Charing Cross Theatre (see it), Thom Southerland turns up here – and proves again what a ‘no nonsense’ director he is. Firm hand on the script, but always letting the performers shine.

Ian Westbrook’s 3D Creations, The Twins FX and Mike Coltman give us visuals that are as unexpected as they are brilliantly realised, while Gary Hind has selected some cracking old favourite tunes, and Barry Robinson and the musicians also pull off a neat stunt as Matt Flint keeps even those not known for moving on stage bouncing around.

For them, Alan McHugh’s script is short (2 hours, including 20 minute interval) but it packs in plenty of traditional routines, and delights in the expected call-and-responses. Add the personalising quirks for the stars, the vital jokes of all kinds (the obligatory topical Royal Wedding one being nicely near-the-knuckle but still clean) and proper rhyming opening, closing

plus delightfully happy ending – the result is a sore throat on the way home for all. Exactly as it should be.

The return of Qudos to Wimbledon is, in short, a triumph. If only they could restore the hilarious “pre-show” video screen with it’s mocking of the audience, it would be complete. A measure of how good it all is: first, a – well, the – reader of this blog was at the same performance. At the interval, the person informed me that a “first time visitor to theatre, ever” – a youngster sat in the row behind – had been simply amazed and entranced at what theatre can do. Second, I personally booked at the interval for next year. How’s that for a recommendation? Oh yes, it is!

5 stars.

  1. Francesca Clementis permalink
    December 13, 2017 3:37 pm

    It was lovely to meet you (and your parents)! The kids in our party (first-time theatregoers) loved the whole experience so much that their parents booked their next trip that evening. I directed them to Get Into London Theatre (brilliant bargains for Jan/Feb and still loads of tickets available for all the big shows) and they booked for School of Rock, which I always recommend to families with young boys as they, in particular, really respond to this show. So this panto achieved, for me, what I wanted it to do: to light the fame of passion for live theatre in the hearts of young children.

    • Steve Rich permalink*
      December 13, 2017 3:57 pm

      Likewise you and husband and party :). Amazing to hear how quickly their parents booked – and I agree, “School of Rock” is perfect for boys – sort of an antidote to “Matilda” in a way, I think. You are SO right, it is Panto magic that can do that, and to know it has happened right in the stalls where I was sitting means a lot :).

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