Theatre in Wales

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Who would have thought it – hand jiving in the Torch?

Jack and the Beanstalk

Torch Theatre , Torch Theatre, Milford Haven , December-07-01
Last week saw the first schools’ matinee performances of this year’s Torch Christmas show, Jack & the Beanstalk.

Although too well-behaved to rock in the aisles as their grannies might have done, the youngsters squirmed in their seats with excitement, and did the hand jive to catchy 60s numbers.

Show director Peter Doran, while giving the well-loved fairy story an innovative Wild West setting, retained the well-loved ingredients of panto. The audience were good-naturedly press-ganged into the traditional partisan singing. The ever-popular chase through the auditorium saw the pursuer and pursued emerging from a lift, having escaped from the giant’s top floor lair.

Doran rustled up some wonderful characters, especially the wacky Mad Cow Denise (the superb Karin Diamond.) Poor Denise yearned for a role on the range as a quick-on-the draw gun-totin’, chivalrous cowhand, but was confused because she’s a gal, when what she really wanted was to be a cowBOY.

Her gang of goodies included the beautiful heroine Princess Roxanne (the winsome Tonya Smith) and the famed Jack (Craig Rogan). Rogan portrayed Jack as good-natured and amiable, but rightly in fear of his formidable mum, Dame Trot (Lee Mengo). Pouting with indignation at the iniquities of MEN, Mengo quickly established rapport with the audience, and was greeted affectionately as ‘Allo Trotty’ whenever s/he appeared on stage.

Buddies one and all, the mischievous trio of Denise, Jack and Princess Roxanne, with perfect professional timing, get up to all sorts of scrapes, including a rescue attempt that goes hilariously wrong. Taking a break behind a Kit Kat, they dodge their arch-enemy, Igor (Jon Atkins).

Atkins’ performance was exuberantly physical, as he threw his whole body into wrestling with a mega supermarket trolley with a life of its own.

As the giant’s crafty servant, Igor planned a menu for his master, which included delicacies such as Denise and gravy, followed by Princess Pavlova. His cauldron of RATatouille (geddit?) included plenty of animal protein.

There were more of these corny gags than cacti in a desert – a neurotic hen too stressed to lay, and a foot-tappin’ skeleton. But Trotty’s wordy penchant for puerile puns was overdone.

Designer Sean Crowley has a reputation for creating scene-stealing sets, so his orange desert was unusually low key, but the blooming of the beanstalk in the parched badlands of the wild west was magical.

Was there a giant at the top of the beanstalk for Jack to slay? In unravelling the mystery, the show faltered momentarily, only to barnstorm to a cracking grand finale featuring the coolest cowboy of them all, The King (Garry Lake) of rock’n’roll.

With original music by James Williams, Jack was live theatre at its best, a rollicking romp of a fairy story set on the wide open range, with the goodies, as ever, winning through.

Public performances of Jack and the Beanstalk commence at The Torch on Friday 21 December.

Reviewed by: Viv Stoddart, Milford Mercury

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