Posts Tagged ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’

Review – Peter Pan Goes Wrong – Mischief Theatre at the Pleasance Islington

December 14, 2013

The night before going to Peter Pan Goes Wrong, I had the misfortune to drop into the Southwark Playhouse’s Jack and the Beanstalk. It said it involved squirting cows and Mexican jumping beans, but what it didn’t make clear was that only the second half was going to be the actual panto – the first half was all the actors talking about the panto they were going to do, while acting like an outtake from a Three Stooges reel – bopping each other, taking pratfalls, pouring paint down each other’s backs. Supposedly all of this was because they were not yet ready to do their panto but, in fact, this was part of their panto, and it was boring. Panto is supposed to be for the whole family but I couldn’t see how this dull thing could be appreciated by anyone over the age of ten – I mean, forget slipping in political jokes, it was just so juvenile and dull that I was considering trampling the bored 7 year olds in the front row to make my way to an exit before the interval ever rolled around. Only thirty minutes and yet it seemed at least an hour fifteen! Consider me terrified as I sat down at the Pleasance and realized I was about to watch another show that was, essentially, a panto where people hadn’t got their act together. GOOD GOD WAS THIS REALLY GROUNDHOG DAY?

Okay, well, I didn’t feel that way beforehand – I was all excited because I had been comped in as part of a “tweet up” and I actually had had a really good time at their previous show, The Play That Goes Wrong. But it’s a tricky thing to do a play about people making mistakes that doesn’t actually just feel sloppy (as I had been reminded the night before) – it takes really tight timing, impeccable stagehanding, and the perfect light touch of comedic acting, with a connection like adamant chains between the actors and a constant awareness of the audience’s mood.

So: the concept of Peter Pan Goes Wrong is that the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is doing Peter Pan, with certain limitations due to their Lost Boys having all been in an accident. This is explained to us before the show by the director, with additional flourishes by the codirector, who makes it clear that all of CPDS’s shows have been fraught with misfortune. The list is long, there were “comic” (read: irritating and, to me, forced) interruptions by gurning cast members, and the two of them start bickering. I think it was sometime during this bit when I began to wonder if this really was a play that was going to go very wrong as I was finding it tedious.

Thus when they finally started the play proper, I found absolutely nothing the least bit funny. Ooh, the nursery door won’t open, ooh, everyone acts like cardboard cutouts, ooh they’re having to “pretend” the scissors are a spoon, could it be any more forced.

Then something happened that completely surprised me. The look of shock on the affected actress’ face was wholly believable. Suddenly, I was sucked in. The mucked up sound cues, the stuttering Lost Boy, the mid-show replacement for Peter Pan … I bought it all, even the resurrection of Tinkerbell. Never has a revolve stage been used to such perfect effect, not even in His Dark Materials (may the NT take note). I was laughing at a pitch only audible to dogs.

In short, it was great, both faithful to the source material and a fine work of comedy. Truth be told, it’s funnier than many of the actual pantos out there right now – the only one I had more fun at was Cinderfella. Be grateful this is being done at the big space at the Pleasance, so there’s far more room than there was when I saw this company at Traf 2: go, go now, and go often.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, December 12th, 2013. It continues through January 5th.)

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Review – Jack and the Beanstalk – Hackney Empire 2010 panto

November 29, 2010

Early this fall my friend Exedore (that’s his twitter handle, anyway) gave me a heart attack when he told me, in short, Christmas had been cancelled this year. That’s right, Clive Rowe was NOT gonig to be in the Hackney Empire panto – instead, he was going to be in The Three Musketeers. Massive OH NOES! My one major holiday tradition (since I moved to England) dashed! I felt like I should go, just to show my support of the struggling Hackney, but Clive is my Dream Dame … in my eyes, There Is Nothing Like a Clive; in his absence, so much panto is just hackneyed. But three weeks ago I got the good news: Clive was in, and Christmas was on! I signed up quickly for opening night tickets and eagerly awaited the show.

The story of Jack and the Beanstalk is … well, kind of different from the one I remember. As in many pantos, this one has a much bigger role for Jack’s mother, and (unsurprisingly) rather a long turn on stage for the cow. In addition, we get Jack’s best friends, Molly and Billy; two evil henchmen (the Beans, who fart and eat boogers and are generally revolting even without their green spotlight); and the most mysterious Mr. Snowmaaaaan, who appeared to be a Jamaican guy in a white afro wig and an equally terrifying fake fur coat. I was, again, pretty amazed at the complete lack of congruency with my expectations of the story, which was more about magic beans and giant’s gold and not a lot about fairies or who was in love with Jack.

Still, part of the fun for me is settling down into the familiar ride, with Susie McKenna tossing in topical jokes (the “demolition” government), reworkings of extremely familiar songs (“Easy Money” and even a song from Royal Wedding), and some fun dance numbers (I was shocked to see Mrs. Bean setting the floor on fire). Jack was a real star, both a talented dancer and a fine singer, though I was surpised somewhat that it was actually a guy in the role – still, I in no way felt short changed. The Billy/Molly bit was all rather long, though, and I found myself hoping that in later editions, Billy’s solo song might get cut – the loser male anti-hero in so many pantos (a la Buttons) isn’t my favorite element, and while he and Molly were big hams, they just didn’t enthuse me.

Clive, of course, was fantastic. His voice was as rich as ever, and his skill at ad-libbing got good use when Mr. Bean’s wig came off with his hat during the (inevitable) cream pie scene. Unfortunately, his Dame costumes weren’t as brilliant as in years past, even though they changed with every scene – there was just a certain simplicity and lack of whimsical detail that spoke of, I’m pretty sure, budget cuts. Still, the golden egg laying bird was better outfitted than anyone I saw at Wimbledon last year, and how often do you get to see a chicken tap dance?

Overall the second act, with its big musical numbers, was much more energetic than the first, but I enjoyed the entire evening. This wasn’t the best show I’ve seen them do, but I feel confident that with its street smarts, top-notch performers and well-written songs, once more Hackney will be the panto for the others to beat.

(This review is for the 7 PM performance on Saturday, Novemer 27th, 2010. The show continues through January 9th, 2011. Running time is approximately 2 1/2 hours based on my experience.)