Pantomime. That great British tradition, that tends to divide us as a nation. Do you love pantomime or hate it? Personally I love it, but that may be because I grew up with it. My stage debut was as a fairy in the local amateur pantomime at the age of 7, and it was something I took part in every year until I left home and went to University. It was my Mum that gave the kids their first taste of pantomime – she took the two year old geekdaughter to a local amateur production, and we’ve taken her every year since. My Mum says pantomime is important because for most kids it’s their first experience of live theatre, and I absolutely agree with her.
This year I was given the opportunity to take my daughter to her first ever professional pantomime, when the folks at Crewe Lyceum offered me a pair of tickets to the opening night of “Jack and the Beanstalk”. This year’s festive offering stars Lisa Riley, Brendan Sheerin and Peter Piper. Both the geekdaughter and I were familiar with Lisa Riley, having seen her on Strictly Come Dancing a couple of years ago, but everyone else was new to me.
We were given tickets to the evening performance, which started at 7pm. If I’d had free choice I would have chosen a matinee, as it was quite late for my daughter. She coped well, but when the curtain came down for the interval she turned to me and said sadly “Are we only half way through?!” She made it to the end, but the final curtain came down past 9.30pm, which may be too late for some kids. Sensibly the Lyceum are offering a number of different show start times, so you can pick one that suits your family best.
As far as the show was concerned it was a fairly traditional pantomime. All the essential elements of the Jack and the Beanstalk story were there – Jack, his mother, the cow, the magic beans, the beanstalk and the giant. There was plenty of audience participation, with “boo”-ing of the baddie, some “behind you” and “oh no it isn’t/oh yes it is”. The pantomime started off with loads of energy from the opening – there was a great selection of songs and some very impressive dancing. The choice of songs was definitely geared at families, and my daughter and I both enjoyed songs like “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray and “Happy” from Despicable Me 2. When Lisa Riley first appeared on stage the geekdaughter turned to me and said “is that really her singing?”, and when I told her it most certainly was she looked very impressed. Although there was lots of action throughout, I felt that it was a bit slow getting to the main story – it seemed like there was a lot of pre-amble before the recognisable elements of the Jack and the Beanstalk started appearing.
There were brilliant performances from all the cast, from the chorus of kids from YSD, the local theatre school, up through the adult chorus members (who had some great dance and gymnastic moves) and all the principals. Obviously it’s the big names that draw the audiences in for this kind of show, but I was particularly impressed with Shaun Chambers as Fleshcreep the baddie, and the ballet dancing skills of Iestyn Edwards as Dame Trot have to be seen to be believed.
Pantomime is traditionally a family show, and there are usually a few jokes that are clearly aimed at the adults in the audience. However, for me, Jack and the Beanstalk contained one or two comments that were unnecessarily adult – comments like “lubricate my dipstick”, whilst probably going over the heads of the children, still don’t sit well with me. I must stress that it was only one or two comments though, and apart from that the content was well pitched and entertaining.
One area where amateur pantomime will always win out for me is the audience participation song. Traditionally this is where the kids in the audience are all invited up onto the stage to sing a song with some members of the cast. Obviously in a larger theatre with seating on multiple levels it isn’t practical to bring all the kids up on stage, so it appeared that a small number of children were pre-selected to go up on stage. This is probably the only part of the pantomime that the geekdaughter was disappointed in – she is used to being able to join in this part and was confused when she couldn’t. Especially when the kids involved were given little goodie bags as well.
For an overall verdict though, I’ll leave that to the geekdaughter. She woke up the morning after we’d been to the show and the first words out of her mouth were “I really loved that Pantomime Mummy, can we go again?”. I’ll take that as her stamp of approval then 🙂
Jack and the Beanstalk runs at Crewe Lyceum theatre until Sunday 4th January 2015. Tickets range in price from £15.00 to £21.00 per person with small reductions for family groups and concessions.
Disclosure: I was provided with two tickets to Jack and the Beanstalk at Crewe Lyceum for review purposes. All words and opinions are my own.