Jack and the Beanstalk

Dec 17 2017 | By More

★★★★☆   Satisfying

Church Hill Theatre: Fri 15 – Sat 23 Dec 2017
Review by Hugh Simpson

There is a warmth and sense of tradition to Jack and the Beanstalk at the Church Hill Theatre that makes it an extremely attractive proposition.

The tale of Jack, the cow and the magic beans is a familiar one in pantomime, with a strong central narrative but plenty of scope for diversions in this, Edinburgh People’s Theatre’s 66th consecutive pantomime.

Alistair Brown, Mags Swan, Peter Morrison and Derek Ward. Pic: Ian McNaught

Alan P Frayn’s off-the-peg script has a fair few funny jokes of its own, and there is room for plenty of local and topical gags which are of a consistently high quality. The storyline is also in there somewhere among a large number of characters who are able to run through a variety of traditional audience participation routines – some of which are done notably well.

On the opening night, while everyone was proficient to begin with, it was noticeable that a couple of the performers took a while to warm up fully. By the second half, however, the whole thing was ticking along at speed.

Derek Ward’s Dame Dotty Dimple strikes exactly the right balance between the welcoming and the grotesque, and Peter Morrison’s rapport with the audience in his ‘daft laddie’ role as Simple Simon is particularly good.

There is a slight oversupply problem in the comedy roles, making it difficult for everyone to impress. Carol Bryce and Stephanie Hammond take a while to make their mark as the brokers’ men Scarper and Snatchet, but as soon as they start hitting each other with hammers they never look back as far as the younger audience members are concerned.

Altogether charming

Alistair Brown gives King Crumble a scatty, put-upon air that is altogether charming, while Mags Swan’s hoity-toity Queen Apricot is suitably regal and stand-offish. Carol Caldwell and Kelly Simmonds are responsible for what is one of the most accomplished pantomime cows you could ever hope to see.

Derek Ward, Gordon Braidwood, Alistair Brown, Mags Swan and Lynsey Spence. Pic: Terry Railley

Graham Bell, meanwhile, gives Rancid the ratcatcher a peculiarly sympathetic air. There is something oddly touching about his scenes with the evil witch Piccalilli, who is given magnificently full-throated life by Lyzzie Dell.

Dell’s performance epitomises one of the best things about this production. When she and Anne Mackenzie as the good fairy Sugardust open the show, there is none of the forlorn, slightly apologetic delivery of the cheesy doggerel that can affect community pantomimes.

Dell in particular attacks the lines with relish, making it seem for a few moments as if it is the most important thing in the world, and suggesting that it is entirely possible that the giant is going to feast on the kids in the audience.

The giant’s voiceovers are boomingly provided by Gordon Braidwood, who also provides a well-judged comic turn as daft royal equerry Humphrey.

winsome without being wet

There is still room among all of this for the traditional love story. The Princess role in such stories is a surprisingly difficult one to get right, as you have to be winsome without being wet, and independent-minded while still having to end up being rescued. Lynsey Spence gets it right on both counts.

Peter Morrison and Scarlett Massie. Pic: Terry Railley

Praise be, that EPT still have room for a thigh-slapping Principal Boy when everyone else seems to have given up on the concept. Scarlett Massie is simply excellent, turning her hand to comedy, singing strongly and acquitting herself well in the heroic bits – even if the entire cast do seem to accompany her up that beanstalk.

The difficult business of growing a giant beanstalk (and then chopping it down) when there is not a huge budget available, is handled well, with the reactions of the chorus members particularly good.

That chorus is cleverly used throughout, with the musical numbers of various vintages well chosen and never outstaying their welcome. While there is probably too much of a bias towards musical theatre-derived numbers in the second act, there are a couple of songs that younger attenders will recognise – which is not always the case.

Director Mandy Black makes good use of her choreographic talents and a ready supply of dancers; she also never gives in to the temptation to overuse them, which once again could probably be said of some pantomimes. As a result, the musical numbers are always enjoyable in themselves. They are unflaggingly backed by MD Barrie Simcock and drummer Duncan Clark, whose two-man band produces as versatile a sound as many much larger pit bands.

Black also should be congratulated for the imaginative use of the auditorium, and for producing a cast who are well-drilled enough to cope with the inevitable first-night technical hiccups, while still being spontaneous enough to cope with the reactions of the audience.

The interaction between cast and audience never goes too far, and is never remotely nasty, which just goes to reinforce the inclusive feel of what is definitely a community production – reassuring for locals, but welcoming for anybody, and thoroughly recommended to anyone who wants to enjoy the best a traditional pantomime has to offer.

Running time 2 hours 30 minutes including one interval
Church Hill Theatre 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Friday 15 – Saturday 23 December 2017
Fri 15: 7pm; Sat 16: 11am, 3pm; Sun 17: 2.30pm; Tue 19-Fri 22:7pm; Sat 23: 2.30pm.

Tickets and details: www.ept.org.uk.

EPT Twitter: @EPeoplesTheatre.
Facebook: @EdinburghPeoplesTheatre.

The ensemble. Pic Ian McNaught


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Comments (2)

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  1. Lyzzie Dell says:

    Thank you Hugh for this fantastic review. I am very pleasantly stunned by my personal review, but I have to give credit to Miss Mandy Black’s direction in helping me achieve this performance.

  2. Mike Keenan says:

    Thanks for this review. The cast have all gelled together so well and we ENJOY ourselves. All praise to Mandy Black the queen of Edinburgh Panto!