Theatre in Wales

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Another Torch cracker...

Jack and the Beanstalk

Torch Theatre , Torch Theatre, Milford Haven , December-07-01
Pantomime is as traditional at Christmastime as turkey and tinsel, but one thing you can count on is that the Torch Theatre, Milford Haven, will always put an innovative spin on the genre.

Once again the Torch has pulled out all the stops for this year’s festive offering, a bright and breezy reworking of the classic Jack and the Beanstalk.

Written and directed by Peter Doran, this Jack and the Beanstalk is not as dark as some of the Torch’s previous Yuletide output, making it even more accessible to kids of all ages.

In fact, the production is as vibrant and vivid as Sean Crowley’s bright orange sets and colourful costumes, which perfectly complement Doran’s wittily wacky script and James Williams’ up-tempo original score.

The tale is timeless. Poor Jack sells the family cow for some magic beans, which produce a beanstalk enabling him to climb it, kill the wicked giant, steal his treasure and steal the hand of the pretty princess. However, as this is the Torch, there has to be something inventive and new about the tale, so why not transport it to the Wild West and have Jack and his mum living in a trailer on the prairie!

The tale is slight, yes, but this allows for a whole host of pantomimic padding with saucy gags, slapstick humour and a plethora of cracking songs, ranging from lilting ballads and country and western boot-scooters to rock and roll foot stompers.

It is almost as if Doran already had his cast in mind when he penned the tale, because each character plays to the strengths of the actor and each one of them knows exactly how to enchant their audience.

Craig Rogan, as brave yet unsure Jack, has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand from the outset, while Garry Lake adds another measuredly over the top performance to his CV as the Elvis-loving King.

Boys of all ages will fall in love with demure, yet deceptively feisty Princess Roxanne (Tonya Smith) while Karin Diamond as Mad Cow Denise (come on, it’s a panto!) is the sort of supportive best friend that everyone should have in their lives.

Added to the mix is Lee Mengo as panto staple, Dame Trot, milking his role without overstepping the mark – even when some of the gags are as corny as Kansas in August.

Of course, as well as heroes, every good panto needs a villain, and the Torch as a cracker in Igor, the giant’s henchman (Jon Atkins).

Not only is he creepily good – like Robert Helpmann in a Max Wall wig – but his interaction with his young audience was outstanding – even down to an individual audience with one child on the merits of Manchester United versus Liverpool on the day I attended!

Added to the whole colourful confection is some wonderful puppetry work, particularly golden egg laying Chicken Tikka – excellent effects and a guest appearance by a Broadway and West End star!

Naturally, panto is also about audience participation and the Torch’s production has it in spades, from sing along songs to bags of ‘he’s behind you’ s.

So absorbed were children, that many were singing Jack’s catchy signature tune during the interval, the music is so infectious and their delight in happy endings all round was patently obvious.

In fact, the decibel levels in the Torch from the Meads, Pwlch and Laugharne Schools, who I joined to watch the production on Friday morning, must have outdone a Concord take-off!

To work, a panto needs energy and enthusiasm, not only from its audience, but from its cast, and this is also where the Torch shines, for it was the strength of the ebullient performances and energetic dance routines that generated such an overwhelmingly positive reaction. It may sound like a cliché, but the Torch has another Christmas Cracker on its hands.

Currently playing to schools, the Torch’s production of Jack and the Beanstalk opens to the general public on December 21st – although the general public may also purchase tickets for school matinees, subject to availability.

Reviewed by: Tenby Observer

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