Jack and the Beanstalk, Christmas Pantomime at the Theatre Royal, St. Helens, Merseyside.
Sunday 7th December 2014, 10 am
I have not been near live performance in a very long time, so going to see any is a bit of a treat for me. Considering I spent my formative years in and around theatre’s (The Citadel in St Helens, being one), it seems almost strange not to have been near one in so long. Perhaps it is that mentality one gets when one completes one’s education – no more studying and no more homework and no more school! So you keep away from the place that gave you all the work and stress for a reason…
The Theatre Royal in St Helens, Merseyside is a long standing feature of the town, despite it’s more contemporary facade, of which I can remember several over the years.
It is a small, but well maintained proscenium arch theatre, in keeping with the smaller town theatres one might find throughout the country.
I haven’t been to a Pantomime since I was a kid myself and I can hardly remember much, other than it was Aladdin and Mr T was the genie (who I imagine, rather than remember, pitied the fool).
I was with my step mum, my eight year old nephew, my five year old niece and six year old daughter.
A giddy and reasonably fraught atmosphere awaited us on arrival with the door staff selling programmes with little knowledge of the theatre they were working in (they had no idea what or where the dress circle was). Eventually, a befuddled young man in a uniform thumbed over his shoulder at some stairs and told us to try going up those.
Eventually, we made it to our seats, which were front and centre of the balcony.
The cast list meant little as I had only heard of three of them. There does tend to be a few people doing Panto’s that one can only take the promoter’s word that these people were actually famous.
Linda Nolan, who topped the bill, was a dynamic and winning turn as the stock wicked villainess. Her musical numbers including the inevitable ‘I’m in the Mood for Dancing’ and a little-girl pleasing version of ‘Let it Go’ (there were other songs from ‘Frozen’ too) were very well performed indeed.
Kurtis Stacey (killed off last year on Emmerdale) played the eponymous hero of the tale, playing it up for full effect as the handsome young man, off to save the day.
Playing the love interest was an actress I’ve never heard of, mainly because I don’t watch Waterloo Road. Abby Mavers was Princess Jill (Jack and Jill – you can see what they did there, right?), giving a stony-faced and emotionless performance to the point were I was genuinely concerned that she had been given some terrible personal news moments before the rise of the curtain, or that she was very unwell.
It’s Panto – it’s akin to the 19th century musical hall and melodrama – it is over the top and melodramatic. You play it up. This young lady simply looked bored and disinterested. I’m glad none of the kids seemed to notice.
Luckily, this was the only weak link in the entire performance. Even the moments the actors forgot their lines, were filled with camaraderie and hilarity which even played as some of the funniest bits in the production.
Panto doesn’t so much break the fourth wall, but shatters it with a sledge hammer, which this performance certainly did with gusto. This included the cast running up and down the aisles and the musical director in the pit having happy birthday sang to him.
Would Brecht have approved? Certainly more so than Stanislavsky, that is for certain.
The dancers were wonderfully rehearsed and genuinely looked overjoyed to be there, performing, which was great to see, especially the little girls of the company.
Claire Simmo from Radio City 96.7 was a joyful presence who brought glitter and sunshine to the stage.
The best performances came from Liam Mellor and Simon Foster, who played Jack’s brother and mother, respectively.
On the poster advertising the event, Foster is described as “St Helens’ resident dame”. I’m sure my Nan would have something to say about that!
Liam Mellor could have been a one man show as far as I was concerned, as he was funny, endearing and personable and won ‘man of the show’ for me.
Nick Cochrane, who played the King in this production, gave a fun performance and lapsed into genuine hysterics when Mellor or Foster changed a line or forgot one. This simply added to drawing in the audience, as if we were all part of some unique, ad-lib that no other audience would be able to see or hear again.
He had the mick taken, both scripted and otherwise, about being mistaken for presenter Pat Sharp and for his extremely rare appearances (sadly) on Coronation Street where he plays Andy MacDonald.
The set was bright, colourful and effective enough to ensure young children were able to understand the setting of the scenes. Fly’s and gell’s were used frequently enough not to over-elaborate and confuse, whilst providing mesmerising spectacle for the young audience members.
The costumes were good, particularly those of the Dame, which one would expect with it being a Panto.
The stock characters one always finds in a Panto were of course wheeled out, along with references to what it was the cast were otherwise famous for. Although predictable and twee for we adults at times, it generated a warm, positive atmosphere and a very enjoyable time for both adults and children, which for me, is what Panto is really all about.
It instilled joy, laughter and delight into the hearts and minds of the young children I was with, which was the main thing. It is wonderful to see performance create such wonder and happiness into others – particularly children.
I wonder if it was seeing live performances like this one that made me want to take up acting too, in the same town?
Go and see Jack and the Beanstalk at the Theatre Royal, St. Helens, Merseyside whilst it is on. Very well recommended indeed and a wonderful time will be had by all.