Jack and the Beanstalk

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - REVIEWS - Sarah Free­man

THE fact that Ber­wick Kaler has spent the last 32 win­ters dress­ing as a woman for York The­atre Royal’s an­nual panto is im­pres­sive enough. The fact that he still ap­pears to en­joy ev­ery minute of it, even more so.

The York panto doesn’t fol­low the usual for­mula, and the tra­di­tional mix of out-of­work soap stars and ob­scure chil­dren’s TV pre­sen­ters are con­spic­u­ous only by their ab­sence.

In­stead, Kaler has a reg­u­lar cast who when they are not in panto can be found star­ring in Harold Pin­ter plays and work­ing with the English Phil­har­monic Or­ches­tra. It’s this kind of tal­ent which marks York’s an­nual show out from the rest.

This year it’s an ir­rev­er­ent take on Jack and the Beanstalk, in­volv­ing a Mar­tian in­va­sion, a homage to Lau­rel and Hardy and pos­si­bly the best im­pres­sion of BBC’s Look North pre­sen­ter Christa Ack­royd you’re ever likely to see.

There is no sense to the plot, but that’s where the charm of the York The­atre Royal panto lies.

The au­di­ence aren’t par­tic­u­larly both­ered about see­ing the guy get the girl or the vil­lain ban­ished in the end. What they are re­ally wait­ing for is the scene where Kaler’s side­kick, Martin Bar­rass, gets a soak­ing.

Like Kaler, the rest of the cast are sim­ply the best. David Leonard as Nastri­damus is as al­ways the per­fect vil­lain. He just seems to get bet­ter with age. Suzy Cooper brings much needed hu­mour to the role of prin­ci­pal boy and Bar­rass, a man who never tires of slap­stick, is the per­fect foil for Kaler’s Dame.

How­ever, this isn’t quite a vin­tage year for York and some ju­di­cious edit­ing is needed. They could start by los­ing the Shirley Bassey num­ber which falls hor­ri­bly flat and for any­one who has never been to the panto be­fore the in-jokes could do with prun­ing.

All that said, Kaler takes his panto se­ri­ously and what­ever the flaws, this is still one of the best shows you’re likely to see this Christ­mas. head to the Grand Opera House.

The re­put­edly 1,000-year-old rags to riches tale of Cin­derella fits beau­ti­fully into the choco­late box sur­round­ings.

From the moment the cur­tain rises, this pro­duc­tion oozes with vi­tal­ity, en­ergy and a magic that spills over the foot­lights, leav­ing young au­di­ence mem­bers trans­fixed un­til the fi­nal cur­tain.

The cos­tumes are lav­ish, sets sto­ry­book-like but, above all, it has an air of nostal­gia and it’s packed with end­less op­por­tu­ni­ties for au­di­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion, which is what a good panto should be all about.

The jokes may have whiskers on, “I’ve just been for a tramp in the woods but he got away”, there’s the “it’s be­hind you” ghost gag, the false leg at the slip­per try­ing, in fact all the things syn­ony­mous with the great Bri­tish pan­tomime, in Cin­derella.

Sun­day night’s per­for­mance saw un­der­study An­drew Fitch play­ing the role of But­tons – and giv­ing one of the best per­for­mances of the char­ac­ter I have seen over the last few decades.

He has bound­less en­ergy, ex­cel­lent com­edy tim­ing and in the “Do you love me Cin­ders?” scene, he brought out the love­able warmth of the char­ac­ter skill­fully cou­pled with pathos.

In pan­toland this young man should go far and if they have any sense, the­atre man­agers should be queu­ing up to sign him for next year’s pro­duc­tions.

As Prince Charm­ing, Ja­son Lee Scott has the stage per­son­al­ity, looks and sing­ing voice that blends per­fectly with Suzanne Car­ley’s sweet-voiced and pretty Cin­ders, while un­der­study Sa­muel Cook brought a suave new look to Dan­dini.

Milk­shake’s Jen Pringle is a warm, ap­peal­ing and be­liev­able fairy, with vet­eran co­me­dian Syd Lit­tle plod­ding his way through as Baron Hardup along­side his for­mi­da­ble dragon wife Lisa Ri­ley.

As the uglies, Paul Critchlow (But­ter­cup) and Sean Luck­ham (Daisy) are bold, brash, bor­der­ing on the grotesque and suf­fi­ciently wicked, how­ever los­ing a wig (I sus­pect as part of a cod-dry – where the au­di­ence think it’s an ac­ci­dent but it’s not) was a lit­tle self­ind­ul­gence, which for some kids to­tally de­stroyed the evening’s mag­i­cal il­lu­sion.

BE­HIND YOU: Billy Pearce heads the cast of Brad­ford Al­ham­bra’s with Kelly Chin­ery as Snow White.

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