“Hats-off to all” – Review, Jack and the Beanstalk, St Helen’s Theatre (streaming online)

Reviewer: Nigel Smith

THE Theatre Royal Panto has become as much a part of a family Easter in St Helens as hot cross buns and chocolate. It might be several weeks yet before theatres can invite even a reduced audience inside their auditoria, but producer and director Jane Joseph and Chantelle Nolan were determined that the show would go on for the school holidays, by creating this production of Jack and the Beanstalk for streaming into audiences’ homes.

Panto is a medium that revels in audience participation, so it’s a big hats-off to the cast and crew for creating a show that still buzzes with all the energy of the much loved live performances even when its audience are invisible to them.

This brand new production, with a script by Reece Sibbald (a St Helens favourite, and onstage here as Simple Simon) succeeds in condensing all the fun and sparkle of the Theatre Royal and squeezing it down the line to burst out again into your living room.

Tim Lucas, who wowed audiences at Christmas with his performance as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, returns in the lead as Jack Trott, our impetuous hero who climbs the beanstalk to rescue his Princess Jill (Olivia Sloyan) from the clutches of the Giant.

Lucas gives a powerhouse performance with some impressive vocals too, and is matched with a brilliant cast. In addition to Sloyan’s Princess and Sibbald’s Silly Billy (who deservedly gives himself the lion’s share of the cheeky one liners) is Jamie Greer, who must be one of the most traditional and lovable dames in the business. His Dame Gertie Trott is pure 24 carat panto.

There’s an interesting dynamic for the two supernatural characters here. Fairy Mary played by Jenna Sian O’Hara and Abigail Middleton’s Miss Fleshcreep seem to share the stage more equally than usual for these opposing forces, and Fleshcreep has a more sympathetic air to her. There’s a nice twist in the story with James Lusted (last seen at St Helens as The Wizard of Oz) appearing near the end as the defeated giant, not slain but certainly cut down to size by the valiant Jack and his friends.

As with the Christmas show, which managed 37 live performances before being cut short less than a week before closing, this piece has been made without its usual troupe of junior dancers. Despite this limitation, choreographer Nazeen Danielle’s senior dancers still succeed in filling the stage with great choreography.

Regular musical director Callum Clarke has put together a score that spans from Footloose to Matilda, and includes a stonking rearrangement of Me Ol’ Bamboo, accompanying some very clever local lyrics from Reece Sibbald.

The show runs at about 90 minutes of action, plus a 10 minute onscreen interval, which is about right if you allow for the various trappings of live theatre that usually involves frequent delays for the audience participation. Filming is a nice balance between close-up shots and views of the full stage, giving a clear sense of the live experience. The stream presents great quality picture and, screencast to a smart TV, also renders good surround sound.

This is a brilliant way to invite a cast who already feel like friends into your home for a private performance of your favourite panto. There are daily streams available at 1:00 and 5:00 pm depending on the day until the 11th April, and tickets are available from the St Helen’s Theatre Royal website. The only thing you might miss is a few hundred other people’s children screaming “He’s behind you!” and treading on your chocolates, and if you want to get wet make sure you buy a water pistol beforehand.

The pantomime streams until April 11 2021.
For full details and tickets visit BookTix Live