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Jack and the Beanstalk (Susan Elkin reviews)

Jack and the Beanstalk
By Jonathan Ashby-Rock
society/company: The Arts Centre, Hounslow
performance date: 12 Dec 2019
venue: The Arts Centre – Hounslow, First Floor, Treaty Centre, High Street, Hounslow TW3 1ES
 

⭐⭐

Hounslow Arts Centre is underfunded – and that’s a kind way of describing a venue which seems to operate on the most fragile of shoestrings. On first entering the auditorium I was impressed and intrigued to see that it had been reconfigured to create a transverse stage flanked by rows of freestanding chairs. For me that’s a first for a panto and why ever not? And it certainly forced one, quite literally, to consider panto from a different angle but it turned out to be, at least partly, a pragmatic decision. At the end, Jonathan Ashby-Rock (who runs the venue, plus wrote and co-directed this show as well as playing Billy) appealed to the audience for exit bucket donations telling them ruefully that the old, broken seating is hidden behind the Jack in the Beanstalk set and that he’d very much like to replace it.

Not that I would ever slate a show for having low-budget production values. It’s the perfomers and the script which make or mar a production. You can create wonderful theatre with little more than blocks, a couple of painted scenery items, a ladder and a power supply if you’ve got the basics right.

Sadly, on this occasion, too many of those basics are flawed. The script, for example, has very few jokes and the ones that are there fell horribly flat at the performance I saw. Too many of them are badly timed. Even a tortuous, tasteless, predictable routine involving a bum-jabbing protuberance on a stool only made the audience giggle a bit. No wonder so many of the teenagers behind me were on their phones. Panto is supposed to be funny.

Ashby-Rock is a talented man but I have no idea why he adopts a grating, childish whine for Billy. After ten minutes I was wishing desperately that the baddie (multi-skilled Philip Ryder as Fleshcreep who also MDs from keyboard) would simply kill him off and be done with it.

Adam Russell-Owen works hard as Dame Trott. He gives the role a rough edge making her big and brassy with a voice like a rasp on forty cigarettes a day. There’s no campness or archness though and that’s usually what makes the dame funny.

The best performance in this show is Danni Payne as Jill. She plays her as a feisty, forthright female who is much brighter and more competent than any of the men. She sings well too and has colourful stage presence.

I also like the seating of the band within the rafters of a moveable ‘house’ at the end of the traverse playing area which could then be rotated to suggest the giant’s land above the beanstalk – simple and low tech but effective.

It’s always good to see actor musos at work too. Apart from Philip Ryder hopping on and off what is effectively a bandstand to morph into Fleshcreep, most of the cast play guitars really quite well. And Ruby Hamilton who plays Peregrin provides an attractive amplified violin continuo for several numbers.

A lot of people have worked very hard on this show and of course there are things in it to commend. On the whole though it’s dull – and it gives me no pleasure to write that.

 First published by Sardines: http://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews/review.php?REVIEW-The%20Arts%20Centre,%20Hounslow-Jack%20and%20the%20Beanstalk&reviewsID=3820
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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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