Fee! Fi! Fo! Fum! This ain't much fun

Review by Paul Nelson


WHEN is a panto not a panto?

The idea of the genre in these days is a show where you can take your children, enjoy some laughs aimed both at your kids and yourself, give the children a good time and take them home to a well deserved bedtime. In the meantime, you yourself have a bit of a giggle.

In what now seems the olden days, West End theatres, notably the Palladium, the Prince of Wales and even the Adelphi, used to run revues or present speciality acts like an American singer surrounded by dancers and back-up acts. When Christmas came along these theatres presented spectacular pantomimes with massive stars, whether of the theatre, the films, or in later years, television.

Alas, with the long running West End tripe (in most cases) these theatres are fully booked, the entrepreneurs who gave us spectacular pantomimes have long gone and we are left with the outer areas of London to give us the works.

For anyone who lives in London, these theatres virtually amount to only Richmond Theatre, and Wimbledon Theatre, and it is to these two we look to fill the gap.

Particularly Wimbledon which has the bigger stage and auditorium. Annually Wimbledon has presented for as long as I can remember, the best and cheapest family panto in the outer London area.

This year with Jack and the Beanstalk, Wimbledon Theatre has struck a dud. It is a night of a few stars.

Without really wishing to know their actual whereabouts, where, professionally speaking, are Des O'Connor, Cilla Black, or even any slightly known, yet still budding, pop star wanting to strut their stuff in front of a live audience? You may well ask.

My following observations may be tempered by the fact that I do not possess a television set, but then neither does my five year old grandson, and it is to he that these shows should be aimed.

Jack and the Beanstalk has as its leading draw Shane Ritchie. Who he? I can hear all children everywhere asking that embarrassing question, and their parents probably being unable to answer it.

Apparently he has appeared in a revival of Grease. He has also hosted some daytime television shows which led to him hosting some evening television shows. Other than that his appeal is anybody's guess as to whether you switched on to a particular programme or not. Hardly groundwork for a superb theatrical performance in pantomime.
I am not anti anyone who is genuine.

Ritchie, I am afraid, doesn't cut the mustard and sadly, it is through the character of Jack that this particular show stands or falls.

He has not been aided by Dame Trot, his mother, who has about as many jokes as an undertaker. Allan Stewart, who can be very funny, really should have been playing the Fairy. For a start Dame Trot's costumes, never at any time extreme, don't give him a chance. He would have been better suited to be the Fairy, and here I ask will someone tell me why in a children's show is she called Fairy Courgette? This must mean as much to a youngster as being called by the name of Einstein's theory. Chelsea kids don't go to Wimbledon and they probably are the only ones who know what a courgette is. To confuse matters, she is in Cartland pink, whereas
courgettes are green. Best not to ask any questions as to this production.

Here we have Sadie Nine as the Fairy. With a totally adult interpretation (you would need to know who, I suspect, Tallulah Bankhead was), and a complete failure to organise her props (yes, I know it was a first night, her wig well off and she broke her dark glasses, and enjoyed the whole thing by laughing, at which we did not), this lady missed the boat.

I will gloss over the Princess Apricot (whoever wrote the script is starving and should be fed, even the King is called Crumble). Princess Apricot, with all the sound expertise in the world, cannot be heard at the back of the dress circle because of a complete lack of enunciation.

Therefore, fortunately, we are left with two knockouts. The choreography (Brian Rogers and his excellent choice of dancers), and Gary Sharkey as Blackspider, the evil giant's henchman. You need an actor and a good one like Sharkey to get the message over to the kids. Ice creams and merchandise won't make them remember the show, nor bring them back next year. Sharkey and his ilk, will.

There is another carp that I have to air. Within the plot there is a throwback to the seventies disco era. It meant little to me and nothing to the kids in the audience. Why on earth are we forced to endure Let's Do The Time Warp Again, from The Rocky Horror Show? Indeed the only time the youngsters in the audience really quietened down was during the ultra violet light dance of the butterflies, which they adored. Producers take note. It doesn't cost the earth to enchant your audience, but all the gadgets in the world without sincerity, will cost you a packet and will fail.

At the start of the season of goodwill, I am really sorry to hand out a downer. There is nothing I like better than a children's pantomime. However, in this day and age I question the sanity, apart from anything else, of a scene where the princess is tied up, and the young audience is asked 'Should I snog her?' There is then the wait for the inevitable scream of assent. Worrying.

Makes you wonder about twelve year-old pregnancies.

I don't want to be heavy about this, but maybe that is why there is no named author to this truly clumsy, so called children's entertainment. It reeks of corporate meddling.
In English Christmas pantomime as soon as you forget the kids, you lose sympathy with the parents, many of whom are seriously responsible people but who like, as I mentioned earlier, a giggle.

This one didn't have a giggle in it.

Jack and the Beanstalk
Directed and choreographed by Brian Rogers. Musical Director Steve Clark. Lighting Jason Taylor. Produced by Qdos Entertainment plc at Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon.
With Shane Richie (Jack Trot), Casey Lee Jolleys (Princess Apricot), Allan Stewart (Dame Trot), Geoffrey Hayes (King Crumble), Sadie Nine (Fairy Courgette), Gary Sharkey (Blackspider), Stratfield Turgis (Giant's Voice), Marcus Makesheff/Gerald Zarcilla (Soldiers), Jake Richie (Harry Potter), and Kate Ryan, Dawn Collinge, Lorette Pearce-Jones, Sam Jordan, Marc Aaron, Matthew Hudson, Nic Ineson, Richard Peakman, plus Babette Langford's Young Set.