Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Midwinter Warmth at the Wardens’ Annual Show

Jack and the Beanstalk

Wardens Company , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , January 8, 2010
Jack and the Beanstalk by Wardens Company 2009 was as good a year as any for theatre with a string of high points. A great tragedy, written in 1805, dealt with guilt and redemption through death. A modern classic depicted miners finding purpose in the creation of art. An all-male Shakespeare amazed. But given the choice of viewing a single scene again, it would have to be the unleashing of the Wardens Company of Aberystwyth on their version of “Talk to the Animals.”

That cannot be done but happily there were scenes in “Jack and the Beanstalk” that were just as good. As the beanstalk grew high, upstage, director Richard Cheshire, along with long-time collaborators, choreographer Rachel West and musical director Elinor Powell, put together a scene of magic. Vegetable Fairy, regular Julie McNicholls, sang “What’s this?”, a Danny Elfman tune borrowed from “the Nightmare before Christmas”, with lyrics adapted by Joanne Julier. Around her danced four charming little beans, played by primary school age children, more teenagers, a quartet of ballet dancers, to the accompaniment of Gethin Jones’ scintillating percussion, all to beautiful effect.

Rachel Crane was a quiet chorus member until the second act when her own character, Fricassee Fleshcreep, burst into action. She did a reprise of her Vicky Pollard. Sooner or later memories of “Little Britain” will fade but for the moment it’s a big audience-pleaser. Her musical number “Hear the Giant’s Rhythm” pulled out all the stops and those deep notes and the bluesy voice we had been waiting for got great support from Joe Sansbury’s trumpet.

The Aberystwyth pantomime has always pitched itself at a fairly innocent level. 2010 had its tinge of innuendo, just enough to add a little spice for the adults. The first joke concerned a bottom encountering a piece of lettuce. The five-strong number “If I were not upon this stage…” was a witty delight. The characters chosen were a golfer with a roaming eye, a foul-mouthed celebrity chef, a pair of bouffant-haired wannabe singing star twins and an octogenarian television host.

The Wardens have never been embarrassed about revisiting what has worked before. Ioan Guile’s King Eggbert, the wettest monarch ever and the strongest argument for turning Merrydale into a republic, started on his regular ghoulie-ghostie joke, then muffed it, but maybe that was the joke. Whatever, at one point the irrepressible Richard Cheshire, with his customary ten costumes including the skintight black lurex mini-skirt and one with a couple of flower pots attached, confessed “I’ve forgotten where we are.”

If so, it was entirely forgivable. If ever there was a production that lived up the maxim of “the show must go on” it has to be “Jack and the Beanstalk” 2010. No dress rehearsal, a lead actor lost, a first night delayed by a day; they just went ahead and did it. The hero of the day had to be Tom Stroud as Jack, who at the last minute combined two roles into one. He is admittedly an Aberystwyth veteran, with a pair of eyeballs that he can collapse inwards, but it is still something to carry off. His accomplishment would have been seamless but for a lady character in the cast twice calling him “Billy.” Courtesy forbids me from naming the lady in question. On the other hand maybe it was a clever tribute from one actor to another.

Pantomime is not supposed to touch the heart overly but the mother-son duet “Me and my shadow”, the Al Jolson number, was genuinely touching.

Finally, the show had its regulars, David Blumfield as Fungus Fleshcreep- motto “It’s gorgeous to be bad”- with his dismissal of the audience as “pimply Penparcau plonkers.” Theresa Jones’s confident Mash had a very funny scene as a choir master in which she marched her choir off to execute one by one the singer who was out of tune, the joke being that she misses the obvious culprit. There was also the scene that never fails to baffle in which a single revolving ten pound note solves a four-way chain of inter-related indebtedness. I reckon a copy of the script might well be of interest to the FSA.

As for the groaning puns no-one mints them like the Wardens. Daisy, who is as likely to produce a bottle of Guinness as a bottle of milk, has to have as her favourite programme “the X-Factor” if the host is called Cow-ell. Dame Trot’s bra is like the local football team- no cups and not much support.

Technically, the Wardens have access to some remarkable backcloths, notably the cavernous Trott cottage. As for Rhodri Evans’ ten foot Giant Blunderbore he is enough to terrify the under-sixes. Hollywood may throw “Avatar” at us but CGI effects fade with time. How Blunderbore was done, and right before our eyes, baffled our party. Those who know, keep quiet about it- keeping that mystery of theatre is what it is all about.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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