Jack and the Beanstalk
By Chris Moreno
9 December 2023
Its that time of year again when the panto rolls into town. Pantomime is such a unique form of theatre, often derided, but it takes real skill to create a show that can entertain all age groups, with something for everyone – even a cynic who has been dragged along by their family against their will. Grimsby Auditorium’s annual pantomime opened on Saturday and already looks like it is going to be a hit. Written and produced by Chris Moreno, Jack and the Beanstalk is a bright, bubbly, bouncy show with fabulous costumes and a wonderful visual spectacle and is set to entertain Grimsby audiences from now throughout December.
I found myself sat next to Look North’s Peter Levy at the preview performance and could hear him chiuckling away throughout at the silly humour and the double entendres that slip in under the radar. All around were children whooping and bouncing and having the time of their lives. The magic of pantomime is that it provides many children with their first ever experience of live theatre and when theatre enthralls children it can often catch them for life. I hope that many of the little ones at Saturday’s first performance will indeed be fans of theatre for many years to come after having a whale of a time.
The show opens with a typical “village life” scene as local actress, Alice Murray in her first professional pantomime, led the singing and dancing in Reach (For The Stars) and revealed a powerful singing voice that she maintained throughout the show leading by example for everyone else to follow. Murray plays Princess Jill, a feisty young woman who is determined that the Giant who is trheatening her citizens should be treated as a bully and taught a lesson or two. No damsel in distress, Murray’s Jill could have been cut from the same cloth as Princess Leia in Star Wars, often taking a lead rather than simply being rescued. Murray proves to be quite the triple threat as she sings, dances and acts maginficently throughout.
Her male counterpart in this production is Jack, played with tremendous energy by Peter Lyall, another performer making his professional pantomime debut here in Grimsby. Lyall has performed as a cruise entertainer for some time and is delighted to be bringing his talents to the Auditorium this year. Lyall is another strong singer with a terrific vocal range and plays the plucky and resourceful hero with conviction, and is a suitable suitor for the Princess as the play progresses. It is a shame that technical glitches prevented us from hearing all of his singing at times but no doubt that is the nature of seeing an early perrformace straight out of tech rehearsals. It is no fault of Lyall’s and I would love to hear more from this talented performer after seeing this show.
Jack’s mother, Dame Trott, is played by regular at Grimsby’s pantomime Ian Norton, who is blessed with great comic timing and knows exactly what the audience want from him as he moves through the traditional routines and gags effortlessly, impressing the audience with his cheeky humour and quick wit. It is a pleasure seeing him return to the stage this year. To see him flirting with the uncomfortable Dads on the first few rows is a joy. I doubt many who fall under his wicked eye during the run of the panto will forget the experience in a hurry.
Another newcomer to Grimsby, but not to the world of professional pantomime, is Joe Connors as the villain Fleshcreep, the Giant’s henchman. Connors obviously relishes playing the baddy as he strides confidently across the stage wringing every boo or hiss out of the audience that he possibly could, loving being the object of hate – obsessed with Elvis Presley and yet dressed like a steampunk goth from the early 2000s. His performance of Elvis’s hit Trouble is great and he clearly enjoys his moment in the spotlight.
Bringing some showbiz clout to the cast are the two big names, Martin Daniels (son of magician Paul) and Sue Hodge of sitcom Allo Allo fame. Daniels returns to the Auditorium to play Simple Simon, Jack’s daft brother who just so happens to be a dab hand at magic. Daniels performs numerous magic tricks throughout the show and makes it look easy, even when performing his showstopper trick at the end of the first act. His jokes are daft and he knows that they will get as many, if not more, groans than laughs but he understands how to deliver them and his simple delivery won many fans among the children.
Sue Hodge manages to bring a little French polish to the role of the Good Fairy, or Fairy Mimi Le Bonk – Fairy in Training as we learn. She is a bundle of fun with a wicked twinkle in her eye. She knows what is expected and sends herself and her TV show up repeatedly in such a good-natured way. She gives the impression that she may be something of a giggler when lines go awry as they sometimes do in panto and it all adds to the audience’s enjoyment.
The music and the songs that appear throughout were well-chosen and suited the mood, though I hope that the mix will improve, so that the vocalists can be heard above the band which at times felt a touch too loud. The opening of the second act worked really well with the chorus of dancers dressed either as Wednesday Addams or skeletons. I felt that the production got into its stride during act two with the ghost gag following a performance of Thriller (written by Cleethorpes’ own Rod Temperton) and Ghostbusters and I also enjoyed the scene with Dame Trott getting drunk instead of making dinner for the Giant.
There is nothing ground-breaking or challenging for audiences if Jack and the Beanstalk, but you wouldn’t have it any other way. But to see, as I did, a toddler who leapt to her feet every time a song played, dancing and waving her arms with real gleeful abandon is worth its weight in gold. This is pantomime, audiences know what they want when they book to see it. When they book for Grimsby Auditorium’s panto, they will not be disappointed. The show runs until Saturday 30 December 2023.
Andy Evans 10 December 2023
All photography supplied by Grimsby Auditorium