NORTH WEST ESSEX THEATRE GUILD

ANNUAL PLAY FESTIVAL

LITTLE JACK HORNER                   by                    PAUL REAKES

LITTLE WALTHAM DRAMA GROUP                              DECEMBER 1991 The Play

 

This made a nice change as a choice of pantomime, a different story and different characters although all the stereotypes were there and all the classic and expected situations. It was rather long, two and three quarter hours is a very long time for most young children to concentrate and also a long time for the cast to sustain their work. The story provided plenty of colour and variety and the gypsies made a nice change and gave an opportunity for colour and humour, the school situation also gave scope for something different. The story line was rather strained at times but it didn't seem to matter. The fact that Ross turned out to be the Royal nieces and Meg her faithful nurse did stretch the imagination a bit, particularly as there was no preparation for the fact that she had ever disappeared .with her nurse, Importance of Being Ernest fashion, all those years ago. The choice of music, which was left to the director, was varied, lively and quite well known, essential in pinto. I certainly don't think there is another Jack Horner in store for me this

season.

 

The Presentation

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As usual I was amazed at the variety and colour that the group manages to fit onto and into the small stage. The scene painting was very good and also had imagination and thought. I liked the black and orangey painting of the two side wood pieces and of course these came into their own later on in the show. The opening village scene was good and colourful and gust that shade larger than life, just right for pinto, The school interior paid a great deal of attention to detail and there were a number of very observant little touches like the graffitti on the outside school wall. The gypsy encampment and the ruins were suitably atmospheric and the court room scene was splendid to look at,

I was also impressed by the costumes. The opening was a feast for the eyes and the children in their white pinnies and smocks gave just the right story book feel. There were again some very good touches of the larger than life sort, such as the rambling gear for Dame Dimwitt and the scout and guide uniforms. Bertie and Gertie had ideal uniforms for

horrid school kids, but although they were as suggested in the book, they did not really fit in with the more traditional approach to the other costumes, The gypsies were bright and exciting looking, the ball scene was romantic and pretty and the King and queen and their court and guards could have stepped out of a fairy tale book, Little Jack Horner looked like all the illustrations one ever sees of the nursery rhyme, but he wasn't really clad for the romantic encounters that he had and the love he inspired in Rosa. This is a difficult one, he has to be recognizable and at the same time has to have a romantic appeal. It is probably easier for girl to get away with this and even Just taking the hat off would have made a difference earlier on, rather than waiting for the finale.

Lighting was generally very effective and there was plenty of variety. I liked the UV effect in the ruins and on the ghosts and that effect could almost have been sustained for longer. The thunder and lightening went down well and the sounds when the villain appeared were very appropriate, especially coupled with the lighting. The burning pie effect at the end of Act One was good and gave a positive and humorous ending prior to the interval.

 

The Production

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The production had pace and variety and successfully incorporated all the necessary facets of pantomime. On occasions a little more restraint was needed and some sequences went on for too long and thus lost their punch and interest, For example, asking the questions in the classroom and guessing the object in the audience could well have been shorter. The children love the participation episodes and they are great fur. but they were almost overdone here and the children who aren't directly involved tend to get a bit restive. There were really too many 'Oh Yes and Oh Nos' as well. I thought that the approach to the audience by all the cast was very good indeed. All took a bold line and directly played to the 'house', The only times that interest really flagged was during some of the quieter, more romantic songs, and although these are needed, the performers and producer have to find a way of putting them over with more panache and punch.

The chorus work was good and the choreography varied and suitable to the size of stage. The use of the yoyos and hoops for the children gave an added interest and ensured that they were occupied and thoroughly enjoying themselves. The Gypsies gave plenty of opportunity for something different and this was well exploited. The gypsy dance and music was especially effective and the tambourines gave just the right touch.

I felt that some of the bigger moments were not emphasized enough,

for example when Jack found the jewel in the pie, the audience had to be concentrating very hard to notice. The incident needed a drum roll at the least to make it important.. Similarly, the pace ran out at the end of some of the scenes and they Just stopped or petered out when we really needed something very definite to let us know what was happening. For instance, at the end of the ball scene   the characters just laid down on the floor and went to sleep, the whole thing just faded away. The flour and dough scene is always great fun and did work to a certain extent, but again a little more emphasis was wanted. The face in the flour eventually went for nothing and it could have been an extremely funny moment. There is nothing very subtle about pinto and every trick and twist has to rammed home really hard. Host of the audience want a clear direct story line, a great deal of humour, which they got, and a certain amount of suspense, which wasn't so well portrayed. A smattering of terror and fear is always appreciated.

The band was very bouncy and punchy and gave a lively backing to the whole thing. I was concerned that the drummer didn't seem to be Paul to start with, but I think he appeared after the interval and then gave his all. A good sound is essential in Pinto and this group certainly gave you that.

There were some very good moments: the original twist of having a dancing bear, the comedy and appeal of Bopo, and the liveliness and attack of the cast, The whole thing would have gained benefit from being shorter.

 

The Cast

 

Bertie and Gertie

 

I really must take these two together as they were a splendid double act. Physically they were well matched, tall and thin and short and

(sorry) beautifully round! This difference they both exploited to the full. Chrissy was bouncy, energetic and exhaustingly full of life. Her legs and feet were never still for a moment. She had a mobile face and some wonderful facial expressions. Bertie was just that more laid back and dumb and between them they provided the audience with an immense amount of pleasure. 'They were always loud, always colourful, and had a good few decibels between them. Most important of all they performed as a team.

 

Patience

 

Patience looked the part and looked the sweet, demure heroine to a tee. She sang very prettily and was thus quite convincing, however she need more spark and power in the dialogue portions. It is very hard being a romantic lead in a pinto because you have so much to contend with in the way of strong and attractive performances. You really do need to compensate in some way for the 'size' of the other characters. A case in point was the duet that Kim sang with the prince at the end of the Act 2 classroom scene, It was very pretty and well sung, but too quiet and the younger element of the audience were not wholly captivated. Kim had captured the fairy story look and attitude very well indeed.

 

Dame Dimwit

Terry tried very hard here and he had some very good costumes to help him. He wore these well and made the most of the styles and Jokes that were thus heaped upon him. Terry was another who sang well and indeed with the size and volume required but at times didn't reach the outrageousness needed for the dame part. While he flicked his hooped skirt and hitched up his rucksack we were in fits of laughter and indeed the visual aspect was good, but we were not always convinced by his voice or the speaking volume that he brought to bear. I did feel that Terry wasn't always as confident as he should have been, and indeed could have been. His performance showed promise and some style but not enough size and charisma for this 'over the top   sort of role.

Little Jack Horner

 

James was loud and confident. He had a good rapport with the audience and was able to judge and manipulate the responses that he received, He was lively and pert, in the cocksure way that Jack needs to be, and he had a good and tuneful singing voice, When he was singing he managed to get over the romantic element that was attached to the part, but as I said before it is very difficult to be romantic and inspire undying love in a large tam o'shanter all the time. James was able to elicit pathos as well as humour from the part and certainly made the audience feel sorry for him. He used his eyes and his face well and proved himself a young actor with some potential!

 

King Marmaduke

 

Tony gave a laid back and relaxed performance and proved himself an ideal foil for the indignant queen. He had a naughty eye for the girls, a habit of falling around with great ease and a nice rapport with the audience, Tony moved well and had suitable mannerisms, and sang in a lively and entertaining fashion. He was confident and appeared to achieve his character by underplaying.

 

The Queen

 

Jackie was imperious„ withering, and seemingly straight laced. She had cultivated a strong and positive character with a touch of the handy husband bashing! As Jackie kept up this sort of person, her change of tune at the end was well manoeuvred and unexpected in true pa-to fashion.

 

Prince Peter

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Julie made a most attractive prince in true principal boy fashion. She was warm and gentle and had a sweet singing voice. She did need more size and attack in the speaking sections, as I have already said there is a lot of competition in panto and the straight characters have got to be strong and dramatic. Julie needed to be more boisterous almost more thigh slapping. Princes have power and wealth on their side and can remind us of it a little more. The prince and Patience were a well matched pair and grew in confidence as the panto progressed, but did need to relax more into the part.

 

Graball

 

Martin was a sinister and nasty villain who elicited boos and hisses from the audience without even trying. He looked dark and menacing and found it very difficult to be two faced with an audience so clearly out to get him. He had a very evil voice and a laugh to go with it, and he used both to good advantage. This was a lively and confident performance.

Rosa

 

Catherine had some 'spunk' about her and was able to stand up to the other gypsies and indeed anyone else very well. She was determined and positive and had a good singing voice which was not only tuneful but powerful. She had some idea of the size and 'punch' necessary.

 

Meg

 

Looked and acted the devoted retainer, she did have a rather peculiar accent and it was not easy to pin this down. she was motherly and anxious all the time and made a good foil for Rosa.

 

Vasaleno

 

Glyn thoroughly enjoyed this part from beginning to end. He was loud, a bully, a vain coward, conceited and stupid and he loved every minute of it, He had the size required and a good approach to the audience, but he had created a character that had much further to go and provided more scope than he finally used, I thought he dealt admirably with the bear sequence and helped that section to work. He worked well with the younger members of the audience.

 

 

Bopo

 

Richard was in danger of running away with the show. He had the panache and the style of the genre at his fingertips and, what is more, a huge sense of comedy and humour, His timing was good and he was able to pick up on the audience and ad lib. This obviously needs to be controlled but he didn't go over the top on this occasion. Richard. was resilient to the wallops of the children and threw himself wholeheartedly into the pop song routines. He was certainly not worried about making a fool of himself, nor did he seem to be particularly apprehensive of his personal safety. This was a warm and lively performance that immediately won over the audience.

 

Fred

 

Fred was a bear with a definite character, and without saying a word, Marea was able to communicate this to the audience. I liked the dancing feet and the actual beating up and chase of Vasaleno was very slick. The children loved the bear.

 

The chorus

 

The chorus, both adult and junior, were bright  colourful, interested and well drilled. I should imagine that strict discipline is necessary to control anything on your stage and that was clear in the chorus work here. One of my favorite sections was the hand Jive sequence in the classroom, very slick. The singing was clear and powerful and, what is more, bright and cheerful. The chorus approach was jolly and 'bouncy' .

In conclusion

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An unusual and interesting panto with plenty of life and good ideas. It was too long and one can judge this by the amount of chatting in the audience. In these days of T.V and amazing pop shows etc, the younger generation become harder and harder to stimulate and attract for any period of time let alone a long one. However, there were many passages when the audience was quite enthralled.