Theatre in Wales

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A magnificent panto with excellent colourful sets

Jack and the Beanstalk

New Theatre Cardiff , New Theatre Cardiff , December-21-06
Jack and the Beanstalk by New Theatre Cardiff
John Barrowman is in his element. A bit of singing, a bit of dancing, plenty of opportunities to flash that disarming smile and a little flirting with the audience.

How could you fail when you have as your panto star a chap who has TV credentials ranging from Dr Who and Torchwood to How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? and Dancing on Ice.

Yes, Barrowman is a real old fashioned trouper.

Only as a gay man he has also achieved what few before him has: secured a family audience, become a children’s hero, has some giggly female fans and is adored by the gay (male) community.

While I’m yet to be convinced by Barrowman as a straight actor (I find him a rather unconvincing action hero in Torchwood and is acted off the screen by Eve Myles) in panto he shines as a polished song and dance man, getting back to his musical roots.

As Jack Trott he appears on stage on a motorbike to be surrounded by swooning girls, a really dashing hero. The audience loves him, and he knows it!

The New Theatre has as usual spared no expense in staging a magnificent panto with excellent colourful sets and a strong cast who clearly enjoy what they are doing.

It is always refreshing going early in a panto run and seeing the players still full of enthusiasm and finding the jokes, sketches and special effects genuinely amusing themselves. Corpsing in most shows is a disaster; in panto it is almost a sign of a good show.

This panto has just the right mixture of references that appeal to different sections of the audience without leaving anyone scratching their heads, such as some jokes that only the grown ups will get and some local references. We teased the Grand Theatre, Swansea – although Barrowman fluffed the line explaining he wasn’t from a round here - and Dame Trot was compared to Newport. Everyone knows where it is but nobody wants to go there.

My little companion Matthew Fry adored the simple but brilliant use of a film of driving rapidly through Cardiff past well known landmarks – stopping off at a well known dispensing chemist for some medicines – while our heroes simply sat in a stationary golf buggy and swayed around a bit.

Barrowman traveled a careful road between playing the handsome heterosexual hero and acknowledging the personal irony of the role. For example, when he said he had never danced with a fairy before it was accompanied by a knowing glance at the audience. But there was none of the cheap banter we would associate with the likes of John Inman or Larry Grayson. Hopefully we are in a new era.

We also had the tight level of innuendo such as after a children’s game Jack asking the King to hold his conkers. Guffaw, guffaw. The script writers avoided any similar jokes about Jack’s chopper at the end of the show.

The routine with the pantomime cow, here called Cerys, had the kids in stitches although I wonder if they got some of the risqué rhymes (when the last word was replaced by one that didn’t rhyme).So we had a rhyme to do with putting the cow in the stalls and getting kicked in the – well it didn’t rhyme with stalls.

When Dame Trot discovers the bag of gold actually contains beans Jack blurts out Oh Sh and the rest of the word is obliterated from our ears.
I won’t spoil the special effects but the Giant is cleverly done as is his chicken that lays the golden eggs.

We always have a few kids brought up to the stage for a little chat and it always produces an unexpected gem. This time when a little girl couldn’t remember what she wanted for Christmas, Barrowman whispers something in her ear. She protests she can’t say that, reducing Barrowman to tears of laughter. He had whispered ‘Peace on Earth’ but quite understood that his accent made the little girl mishear the first word.

Martin Marquez plays a suitably sinister Fleshcreep although making the poor bloke (a deep baritone if not bass) sing Britney Speers Toxic was cruel. Rosie Ash was a jolly Rosie Ashe while Danielle Corlass sang and acted Princess Apricot as sweetly as you could want for.

Richard Tate played King Crumble in a pantomime bumbling way while local radio DJ Tony Wright made for a dame in the traditional panto fashion; outrageous outfits, bizarre hair styles and hats, and the but of many a joke.

The children quite rightly adored Andy Jones, playing Jack’s brother Simon, armed with lots of silly jokes and outfits.

My companion told me this was better than last year’s panto which had already been proved by his vocal contribution to the proceedings.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs until January 27, 2007

Reviewed by: Mike Smith

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