Panto Review: Jack & The Beanstalk - Harrogate Theatre ✭✭✭✭

Jack & The Beanstalk
Harrogate Theatre 

Review by James Eaglesfield

Panto is a deceptive art form. Whilst it can all seem so simple, the best of pantomimes involve hard work and meticulous planning. It is all too easy to take a lazy approach, believing that a former soap ‘star’ topping the bill is enough, but when time, care and thought have been taken it really shows – and that is most certainly the case in Harrogate.

Jack & The Beanstalk is a fantastic production and everything a pantomime should be. With no ex-Coronation Street actor in sight, the energetic and engaging cast get on with providing good, fun family entertainment as they rattle through this familiar tale.

Whilst some productions are seemingly vehicles for one or two particular stars, this is not the case here as the company each get their own chance to shine and the audience love them all - though it has to be said that Tim Stedman, making his 13th Harrogate panto appearance, stands out as decidedly dippy Simple Simon.

Stedman’s infectious enthusiasm and perfect comic timing threaten to steel each scene but he reins it in just enough not to dominate either the other characters or the plot. He is equally happy alone on the stage or as part of an ensemble and engages expertly with the audience, both children and grown-ups alike. Even the most bah-humbugging of people would struggle not to raise a smile or two at his terrible jokes and slapstick antics. I certainly lost count of how many times I laughed out loud.

Chris Clarkson’s Dame Tilly Trott is of course overstated but not to the point of being absurdly overstated. The costumes are outrageous but not in a ridiculous, way over the top fashion and this is matched by the performance which is fun but well balanced. Bad guy Philip Stewart as Flesh Creep puts in an appropriately sly, devious and yes creepy performance. Looking like he has been sleeping in a back street near the theatre for the past month, he brings out the hisses and boos well from the audience as he strokes his rather rotund figure.

This is no unnecessarily-flashy show though which is perfectly demonstrated by Polly Lister’s Jolly Good Fairy of the Forest. There is an absence of pyrotechnics and bangs as she enters, instead a more straightforward, tell it how it is approach is taken. Lister is however cut loose a little more in the second act as she returns as Morag the Cook in a fantastically manic cameo performance. 

Completing the cast are Katy Dean as Jack, Rachel Windsor as Princess Jill, and David Kendra as King Bumble. All have their individual moments and add depth and character to the production rather than just meekly supporting the rest of the cast. Each and every member of the company works well with the audience and there is a lot of interaction which carries the cast’s endless energy in to the auditorium. The young team of dancers are great and, if I have any criticism, the only downside is that they are not used more. Surely there is a place for them at the end of act one finale.

The whole production is colourful and fun. The costumes and set my not be the most lavish in panto-land this year but they are bright, bold and wonderfully creative. The giant in particular is a standout moment. There is something here for all age groups with the music a mix of recent hits and songs more familiar to the grown-ups, all well performed with strong vocals and choreography.

Harrogate Theatre’s panto is how it should be; a simple story told extremely well with a lot of laughs. You may see bigger, brasher pantos this year but you won’t see many better.

4 Stars ✭✭✭✭

Continues at Harrogate Theatre until 13 January 2013.
Box Office 01423 502 116