Alban Arena, St Albans
21 December 2014, 1.30pm
Some years ago, after a couple of dodgy productions, I have to admit the Alban Arena was not our family’s Christmas show of choice, but in recent years, after Evolution Productions came on board, it’s now one we won’t miss.
This year’s Jack and the Beanstalk is another triumph, not just because it has all the conventions that children love – romantic couple, comedy turn, baddie and dame, but because it also gently takes the mickey out of the genre with an excellent script.
As such, “Unnamed villager number one” has a key role, and actors variously refer to the “ghost gag bench”, ask the romantic leads if they could now sing a “popular love duet” and pointing out the “bloke in a dress”.
Steve McFadden aka EastEnders Phil Mitchell as Fleshcreep was a convincing baddie who was also able to mock himself – stopping in the middle of being chased by zombie to wearily exclaim, “Three years – AT RADA – for this!”
Fans of the soap will love the Albert Square references throughout and use of the famous “doof doofs” after which Fleshcreep explains “it happens every time I say something dramatic”.
Jemma Carlisle, last year’s Cinderella, returns as a charming leading lady, Wink Taylor as Billy Trott kept the kiddies laughing, especially when he uses his head to mix ice cream in a bucket – as you do – while Andrew Bryant is dashing hero Jack Trott and Ian Kirby a deliciously posh King Eric.
CBeebies Rebecca Keatley was a sweet and very modern organic vegetable fairy- Fairy Sugar Snap.
But it was Bob Golding, as ever, who stole the show. It is his fourth consecutive panto appearance at the arena but his first foray into Dame-hood but as always he was an absolute delight. A bundle of comic energy, a look, a glance, a word, all with superb timing, creates a fabulous rapport with all ages in the audience and keeps them giggling. Selfishly I hope he is never lured anywhere else at Christmas!
He also develops a bond with one particular member of the audience, much to the delight of everyone else. He announces to the dad’s he/she was looking for a man and immediately honed in on Tony in the front row. Who was spotingly honed in on for the next two hours.
Other highlights included a clever set-piece for Golding and Taylor involving numerous vinyl records and the Dame flying into the giant’s castle and not quite landing. Whether this was a mistake or cleverly rehearsed to look like an error – it was very funny! And Steve McFadden singing Pharrell’s Happy – basically Phil Mitchell singing Pharrell’s Happy – is something I won’t forget in a hurry – genius!
On that note, there’s a great mix of recognisable songs including a couple of Frozen numbers – when Fairy Sugarsnap hilariously sings “Let It Grow” to the Beanstalk – and the take on Les Mis’ One Day More at the end of the first act could easily have been a disaster but really wasn’t!
The giant was impressive and the audience interaction required to defeat him great fun.
Throw in a well-drilled chorus and the fact all the cast look like they are really enjoying themselves, makes for great family entertainment.
I liked the giant because he was so massive and I like massive giants. I liked the dame too – it was a boy wasn’t it, a boy being a girl. That’s funny!
Run time: Just over two hours with a 20 minute interval.
Age range: It’s panto – anything goes and there something for everyone.
Programme was £3.50 – various other sparkly, spinny stuff ranging from £1.50-£5.