Jack and the Beanstalk

Date 20th December 2012
Society Bath Unity Players
Venue Kingswood Theatre, Bath
Type of Production Pantomime
Director Katrina Cowie
Musical Director Julia Barratt
Choreographer Katrina Cowie & Deborah Curtis


Author: Graeme Savage

Bath Unity Players really upped their game this year to give us a very traditional pantomime with an excitingly modern twist. All the usual pantomime elements were in place, and strongly delivered, but this time backed up with some very adventurous technical aspects.

All of the scenery and backdrops, including a very impressive beanstalk, were provided by technical director Adrian Cottle’s projected backdrops. While we have been aware of Adrian’s projection work with the Gang Show in previous years, this was the first time I had seen him attempt not just backdrops, but integrated video footage, sound effects, the aforementioned beanstalk growing and then collapsing, a very funny Quidditch-esque broomstick chase, even the song words for the singalong, all executed very clearly, and also interacted with expertly by the cast. The high point of this being Philip Tucker’s Giant Gut-Buster dominating the proceedings in a way that couldn’t have been achieved through offstage voices or puppetry. Full credit not just to Adrian for the technical expertise and its very slick execution, but also to the company for taking the undoubted risk in using the technology, and for interacting with it in such a professional manner.

The other positive to this was that it gave the performers much more space, particularly noticeable in the uncluttered chorus sequences - the opening in Peaselby Green, the Village Fayre, etc, and especially for the dance sequences, with the performers from Curtis School of Dance feeling more integral to the production than perhaps they have in previous pantomimes.

All of the performers gave a good account of themselves - clear diction, confident moves and some nicely defined characters, clearly well-rehearsed under Katrina Cowie’s unfussy direction, while Katrina herself gave us a strong, if somewhat understated principal boy. Lynda Tucker as a wonderfully made-up wicked witch Piccalili, and Kirstie Flood’s enthusiastic children’s-TV-presenter persona for Sally were the standout performances for me, getting the most response from a somewhat reluctant audience at the performance I attended. They were given strong support by the likeable comic duo Sam Kelly & Ash Thurston as the comedy bailiffs, and Ian Cowie’s Dame Dotty, with some wonderful frocks and even more cheeky one-liners. 

Philip Thorpe, Jenny John and Olivia Cowie were full of character as the royal family, along with Lez Goodwin’s bumbling steward Humphrey, but if I have one criticism of the show, it is with the script and the fact that there were too many characters. While I understand the necessity to keep as many of the company involved as possible, and this is a company of very capable pantomime performers, when so many characters are fulfilling the same ‘role’ within the story, it does give some of them very little time to shine on stage. For example, the roles of Piccalili, Snatchet, Scarper and Rancid the Ratman all have the same function in the story, and while we had four minor roles which were well-performed in their own right, it meant that none of them really had long enough onstage for us to truly engage with them as individual characters. While Alan Frayn’s scripts are excellent for amateur companies, and very up-to-date with their references and pacings, this is the one down side, as it means that sometimes the story does get a little lost in so many characters - in this case it was a shame that we couldn’t get to see more of Trish Hill’s delightful Fairy Sugardust, and I remember feeling similarly about the ‘extra’ characters that appeared in Unity Players’ Cinderella a couple of years ago. But this is a minor criticism, and if anything shows the potential this society has! It is very rare that I feel a show could do with being longer (quite the opposite, in fact!!) but in this instance, an extra 10-15 minutes that could have given us more chance to really enjoy some of this company’s lovely traditional pantomime characterisations would have been more than welcome.

In addition to the projections, the rest of the technical aspects were well presented. The songs were well chosen, sung with enthusiasm (especially by the younger members of the company) and accompanied tightly by the musicians. The lighting was suitably magical and glittery where appropriate, and the costumes were excellent - especially Dame Dotty’s Christmas Tree dress, amongst many other traditional panto outfits. And last but not least, well done to Buttermilk the cow!

Congratulations to the company for a very entertaining evening, and I hope you had a successful run for the rest of the week.