ADJUDICATION REPORT -LITTLE WALTHAM DRAMA GROUP
'JACK AND THE BEANSTALK' January 18 -22nd 2005
Background and Front of House I was greatly impressed by what the Drama Club had been able to achieve in this very small hall -every inch of space was utilised, with the cast popping in and out of every door (even having someone standing by with a coat when one character had to exit for a brief period 'off-stage' -in the rain!)
Interval refreshments appeared out of nowhere, and the whole thing went without a hitch despite the cramped conditions and the size of the cast involved.
It was clear from the programme that the Group enjoy well-deserved support and sponsorship from several local companies who clearly know a good effort when they see one, and there was a palpable feeling that this was very much a community effort.
Direction and Choreography -This was a joint first effort at producing a pantomime by Julie Cole and Karen Wray, who told us in a slightly artful introduction to the programme how this had all come about. They also paid graceful tribute to the help received. And it was truly a terrific achievement, which should give them great confidence for the future.
The show ran like clockwork, and was full of clever dialogue, jokes and amusing and unusual bits of business.
"Jack and the Beanstalk" The story. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to research the history of this tale, which appears in various forms in the folk-lore of many countries, for a page of interesting programme notes. The first literary version is dated from 1734 and there are many subsequent variations.
This one had all the usual characters but gave it an ecological modem twist by transforming the Good Fairy into a Vegetable Queen, complete with Magic Leek instead of her traditional wand. This was somewhat wayward in its operation, and led to lots of green vegetable jokes and puns about knowing her onions, and not serving up too many 'crudities' etc. Even the programme notes included a recipe for Green Bean fritters (As well as word puzzle to keep us happy in the interval). Good idea.
Sets and Props The backdrops depicting the Village of PennyFarthing, Dame Trott's cottage, the Giant's Castle, kitchen and his Henchman's evil grotto in the Castle were painted convincingly by Tracy Hanlon assisted by Michelle France, Liz Jones, Mike Lee, Richard Butler and Billie Bond. There were lots of ingenious props, including a giant catapult which hurled a huge' cannon-ball' straight into the orchestra; a golden magic harp, a golden egg-laying hen, and a mouth-watering parade of giant-sized dishes of food in the giant's kitchen.
Stage Management All these bits and pieces were under the control of stage managers Ian Thorpe and Tony White who did an excellent job despite the limited accommodation.
Sound Group Chairman Mike Lee was also in charge of the sound effects as well as a most unusual transformation scene in which artefacts from Dame Trott's cottage appeared to waltz unaided through the sky, while a chorus of dancers in fluorescent cloaks circled around the stage. Other special effects were devised by Ed Leach.
The sound effects were well thought out, impeccably timed and witty, from the Town Crier's bell which disconcertingly rang a different chime every time poor Paul Scott rang it, to the booming off-stage voice of the Giant, and the feeble fanfare which greeted the appearance of King Satupon.
Lighting was spot-on (no pun intended) in the hands of Dave Newman, assisted by Tony David and Matthew Blanks.
Music Squeezed into a tiny area between the audience and the wall the three-man team of Richard Langstone, Colin Turner and Jason Irving hardly had room to play their instruments, but managed very well providing a selection of well-known songs from "Zippedee-doo-dah" to "Daisy, Daisy" to carry the plot along.
Costumes The big moment of any pantomime is the first sight of the Dame's costume. What will he/she be wearing? Dame Trott did not let us down, her almost restrained plaid costume more 'Mary Poppins' than Elton John, but growing steadily more outrageous as the show progressed. Fleshcreep the Giant's huge henchman, surely had overtones of Ozzy Osbourne or Monsters Inc in his intimidating black uniform as he towered over everyone on stage. A clever construction on Jim Bell's shoulders enabled the Giant to be convincingly gigantic, with very evil rolling eyes.
The Principal Boy and Princess Melanie were both impeccably turned out, as indeed were the whole cast especially in the final scene.
Cast The show opened with a thunderflash and a burst of smoke to reveal the principal villain of the piece, the ferocious Fleshcreep played by Gareth Blanks who strode the stage cracking his whip with evident enjoyment and terrifying all the villagers. A very convincing villain.
John Richardson was an excellent and decisive Dame Trot, a strong contrast to King Satupon, an engaging but semi-apologetically camp and feeble character, with no idea how to rescue his daughter Princess Melinda or free his people from the Giant.
Satupon was played by Richard Butler, and the pair really came into their own in the duet "You made me love you" which was hilariously funny and accompanied by plenty of suggestive (but not too vulgar) actions. It was a high-spot of the show and almost brought the house down.
Satupon's acolytes Spick and Span (Gill Haysham and Katie Norris) were dressed as American cheer-leaders with a very neatly timed saluting regime. They injected plenty of unintentional hilarity into the proceedings, although one could have pruned the laundry scene without loss.
I particularly liked Glyn Jones as Silly Billy whose laconic style and witty asides, delivered in a rich Zummerset accent, had the audience on his side from the start.
Hard to see him as brother to Jack (Vicky Weavers) a natural 'principal boy' if ever I saw one, with long legs and good swagger. A nice voice if a little weak in the high notes. Kim Markwood made a delightful Princess Melanie.
There were no real weaknesses in the cast except perhaps the Vegetable Fairy (played by Linda Burrow) who was magnificently dressed and had some good moments but an unfortunately high-pitched voice which failed to do justice to some of the better lines.
If I have left three people to the end of this list it is because they will linger in the memory long after the rest of this pantomime.
Jenny Broadway had only a brief part as Mrs Blunderbore the Giant's long-suffering wife, but she threw herself heart and soul into it, becoming a hag straight out of a Dickens slum whose efforts to capture more victims to meet her husband's gruesome dietary requirements were truly spine-chilling. And what a wonderful bonnet on her head!
But if anyone could be said to have stolen the show it was surely Billie Bond and Andy Freeman the two ends of Daisy the Cow. This was a most endearing and talented animal who milked the part for all she was worth. Amongst other attributes was the ability to provide on tap a pint of milk, a tin of evaporated milk and even the Isle of Wight ferry ( what else comes from Cowes, stupid !) on request. She also played the audience shamelessly, flirting with them, and nuzzling the necks of the unsuspecting as she passed. Daisy also more than earned her keep in the Trott household as a disco dancer in competition with Dame Trott.
A most enjoyable evening, and the Group are to be congratulated on a good script with lots of witty ideas and other innovative touches. I understand that every seat was sold for all five performances and the audience was enthusiastic and supportive from start to finish.
Most memorable moments I shall cherish:
a) Daisy the Cow
b) Jenny Broadway as Mrs Blodwen Blunderbore
c) John Richardson as Dame Trott
d) The transformation scene
e) Gareth Blanks as Fleshcreep