Jack and the Beanstalk

Date 26th January 2018
Society Torpoint Players
Venue Council Chambers Hall, Torpoint
Type of Production Pantomime


Author: Nick Lawrence

Torpoint Players had struggled a little of late to attract sufficient members, but thanks to a determined effort they had added to their number and with the considerable support of Andy Martin Productions were able to, once again, offer live entertainment to the local community.    As one would expect Andy’s set was bold and colourful and, of course, benefitted from his own lighting design.  There were lots of special features adding atmosphere to the various scenes and presenting a very polished finish to proceedings.  It was amazing how well everything worked in the small stage area.  This is the bonus of hiring a set from a man who knows the building and the possibilities.  It does, though, throw a lot of pressure on to the backstage crew.  Most of the changes appeared effortless and all was worked into the flow of the whole.  Some of the cueing was a little tame.  It is essential, in pantomime especially, that pace is generated by lack of pauses.  On occasion lack lustre cueing by the cast caused light and sound cues to be delayed (and once or twice early).  It is important to remember that without someone “on the book” how essential clearly spoken lines are to everyone involved.   There was also a long pause in Act II with everything in the dark while a change was completed.  Perhaps a little comedic moment from Bean and Dunnit could have covered this, giving the crew less pressure and maintaining the audience’s attention.  

This production boasted some wonderful teamwork.  Everyone, from the warmly welcoming Front of House Team to the cast and crew were clearly working together and having fun.  This was infectious and stirred up the audience which arrived ready to participate.   The script offered plenty of opportunities for general involvement and the audience was not slow to take up their chances.  It is important for the cast to allow the audience to take part.  Firstly permission must be given for interruptions and then gags must be clearly signposted.  Once or twice inexperience meant that the cast ploughed on leaving the audience behind.  The actors may be bored with the jokes, but you can always go for a groan.  Although this could have been improved upon, it in no way spoilt the audience’s fun and the songsheet (competently handled) was mercifully short: well done.

With a kaleidoscope set the wardrobe department was certainly challenged, but every element for successful pantomime was present with all the characters appropriately colour co-ordinated and appropriately costumed.  It is important for the audience to be in no doubt as to who is who and what their relationship is to the other characters and this was stunningly achieved: Jack, heroic looking; Crystal, delicate; Simon, loud; Dame Trott eccentric and so on.  It was good to see the Villagers fully costumed with all the right accessories and Daisy the Cow was excellently done (with help from two competent performers).  The Dame had a range of outfits without it descending into a fashion parade and Jack & the Princess were charming.

The story was strongly led by a handsome Jack (Katie Baker) and a feisty Princess (Maddie Binney).  It was good that the Princess never showed signs of wetness and that she was prepared to stand up for herself even in the face of the giant.  With a promising voice, she presented a very good solo in Act II.   Jack knew his stuff and wielded a sword with panache: a proper panto-hero.

As always in this pantomime the main comedy is founded in the Dame.  Malcolm Boocock was very homely and lovable as Dame Trott; playing to the audience at all the right moments.  The kitchen scene was hampered by the script which didn’t seem to flow.  Perhaps some careful additions would have smoothed things along and, once or twice, the slapstick seemed slightly under-rehearsed.  Despite the hesitancy it was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience. 

The teenage Simple Simon (Jennifer Park) had the audience eating out of the palm of “his” hand, but why was he allowed to stop using his entrance gag?  This should have been maintained, even if the action had to wait for it, so that the audience knew they were still expected to join in.  “He” had a very clear delivery and good understanding of what was going on.  It is essential not to be afraid of an aside.  Throw it boldly at the audience and be prepared to accept something back.  Simon’s colourful costume had straps that were slightly too long causing some fidgeting: this was rather irritating.  He had a good rapport with Jack and the Dame and was clearly a favourite with everyone.

The rest of the comedy was in the hands of Bean (Karen Hemmings) and Dunnit (Laura Tamblin).  This was a very good pairing with both actors working well together.  The “hit me on the head” gag could have gained from a few more glances at the audience.  “Does he really mean for me to hit him?” sort of thing.  This includes the audience fully in the joke.  In general this pairing handled things well, particularly when appearing in a scene they didn’t belong to: so well handled the audience scarcely noticed.

The spider gag was greatly enjoyed by the audience although it was slightly ragged in places.  The need to rehearse this almost to the point of boredom cannot be over stated.   Although, of course, one doesn’t exactly know how the audience will react, it is possible to have it so rehearsed that the audience does as it is told.  It was well organised and the spider proved very popular.

There was a nice King (Mike Adams) who was not afraid of a joke with the audience.  Sometimes the bumbliness was rather confusing – was he a bumbly King or a bumbling actor?   A little more confidence in the delivery of the fluff would have resolved this.  It is important not to drop the voice for asides so that everyone gets the benefit of them.  He was regally bossed about by the strong Queen (Anna Martin) who unfortunately was allowed to get stranded in open space once or twice.  Actors must have people to talk to and not have to address the scenery.    The regal party was completed by the posh chamberlain (Marcia Naylor).  Here again was a character who was allowed to get isolated, consequently she frequently had to look upstage to find a target.  Also a long pole rather than a stick would have made things easier for her attention grabbing moments.

Good was in the capable hands of the jolly Fairy (Rachel Kenhard) who was greatly appreciated by the audience.  It was wise to play this for as many laughs as possible, making her very lovable.   Against her was the fearsome partnership of Witch Hazel (Gill Prideaux) and Scabies (Neil Sellors).  Both were very good at being bad.  They played the audience well and got their comeuppance appropriately at the end.  There was some decent acting here (if on the “big” side) and it was pleasant not to have them go over-the-top but enjoy their wickedness.  All three received the expected response from the audience.

The villagers were ably led by Alice Fox and Josef Sellors who seized every opportunity given to them.  It is commendable that the group made such efforts to harness these actors’ talents.  The group worked well together and provided a much appreciated chorus.

Although the script was not the sharpest, it benefitted from a pleasant directness from cast and director, and was enhanced by some well-chosen musical moments sympathetically accompanied at the piano by Betty Begbie.  Throughout the various natural talents of the cast and crew were used to best advantage ensuring that the whole came over with a natural enthusiasm which was infectious to the audience.  All the right elements were here, well planned and executed, making the most of the facilities available.  This was a thoroughly entertaining evening from a friendly, focussed team, which deserved its enthusiastic reception.