Dereham Operatic Society
Jack and the Beanstalk
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Director/Choreographer - Jean Cator
Musical Director - Felicity Griffin
Production Secretary - Paul Allum
Dance Captain - Martha Bailey
27th December 2015 to 2nd January 2016
at Dereham Memorial Hall
FAIRY MOONBEAM - Laura Jude
FLESHCREEP - Paul Allum
JILL - Francesca Read
DAME DOTTIE TROT - Nick Bird
JACK TROT - Ellie Buckingham
BILLY TROT - Declan Matwij
GERTIE GRABBIT - Heather Neave
KING MAURICE - Kevin Reeve
BLUNDERBORE - Ollie Ludman
DAISY THE COW - Jayne Andrew & Helen Bailey
MAN 1 - Tom Monument
MAN 2 - Doug Bailey
WOMAN 1 - Martha Bailey
WOMAN 2 - Georgia Tekin
THE GOLDEN HEN - Esme Findlay
Martha Bailey, Ollie Ludman, Tom Monument, Ellie Read, Jacqui Shah, Georgia Tekin
Doug Bailey, Claire Findlay, Susan Jude, Sandra Miller, Tom Patten, Haydn Rogers
Esme Findlay, Rebecca Howard, Lily Hurt, Louis Miller, Abi Shah, Thomas Wilson-Gotobed
Review by Stephen P. E. Hayter, NODA Regional Representative Area 4 North, 27th December 2015
"I recall that when I took over the job as NODA Area 4 North Representative (and as substitute for Area 5 Representative, Sue Dupont) that pantomime was all but extinct. I think it was my second year when there were only two in the whole of 4 North and I was glad to be able to watch a high quality production such as the one that goes on in Dereham each year. Well, Sue had kindly asked me back and this year’s offering was ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, and, as I thumbed through the programme, I noticed most of the usual suspects on stage, but a completely new production team. I am a believer that all change is energising but, as the lights dimmed, I wondered if this would be change for the better or worse.
It was an initial relief that Colin Harris had remembered the keys to the bar this time and had also remembered all his wonderful charm and wit, which make any visit to a Dereham Theatre Company such a joy. This is a Society who set the benchmark in front of house warmth! On stage everything seemed as before, an excellent set (Kevin Judes, Dave Filer, Haydn Rogers and John Hannent) and superb costumes (Michele Blanks) with perfectly wonderful make up and wigs (Sophie Blanks for both). Lighting was everything it needed to be with good and extensive use of pyrotechnics, but the sound balance was once again a little suspect and I struggled to pick out some of the song lyrics. Dialogue was crystal clear, as you would expect.
It may have been my imagination but there seemed to be a few more bodies on stage this year and the chorus were really focused with the younger element particularly standing out. I can’t tell from the programme who was who, but two of the boys and one of the girls (local management will know who I mean) were absolutely amazing and impossible not to watch. All chorus members (old and young) were well drilled and completely comfortable with song words and movement. The six main dancers were top-notch and I thought that new Choreographer, Jean Cator, had certainly raised the standard this time out.
Of the supporting cast, there was good work from Esme Findlay as the Golden Hen, Doug Bailey and Tom Monument as Man 1 and 2 and Martha Bailey and Georgia Tekin as Woman 1 and 2. I know that Jayne Andrew and Helen Bailey played Daisy the Cow but I do not know which one was in which half …(Jayne Andrew)… this is important as Daisy’s rear end managed a crowd-pleasing tap routine, which did make me laugh out loud. Masked Ollie Ludman made a nice job of evil giant, Blunderbore, and with the enlarged head removed for his bow, he was allowed a tee-shirt mark “Giant”.
In the more prominent roles, Kevin Reeve worked his socks of as King Maurice with plenty of assistance from Heather Neave as his assistant Gertie Grabbit. Mrs Neave seems to be getting bigger and bigger parts and in this production I thought she was excellent! It is never easy being the fairy, you have to look interesting whilst standing still and speaking in rhyme, but Laura Jude managed all three things with ease as storyteller Fairy Moonbeam.
Nick Bird is an outstanding performer and one of the few people I know who truly understands pantomime. As you would expect, his characterisation of Dame Dottie Trott was perfection, even if the material gave him very little opportunity to make his usual impact. I have to be honest and say that I took a little while to warm to Declan Matwij, but as Silly Billy Trott, however once tuned in to his relaxed, almost throwaway style I was sold. The audience loved him as much as I did but, as with Mr Bird, a shortage of gags caused him to work harder than he should have. Just like the fairy, it is very difficult playing the female romantic lead in a pantomime, but last year’s Principle Boy, Francesca Read, swapped thigh slaps for dresses and used her delightful singing voice to do everything right as the beautiful Jill.
As a stand-alone acting performance, you will do very well to find a better one that that delivered by Paul Allum as the villain of the piece, Fleshcreep. It was simply superb with a characterisation that not only highlighted his immense talent, but also his incredible work ethic, as he maintained a flawless vocal and visual delivery that must have taken a lot of hard work. He looked and sounded the very embodiment of evil and it was only his limited interaction with the audience that seemed incomplete.
I have (controversially perhaps) saved penultimate paragraph honours for Ellie Buckingham as Principal Boy, Jack. In a production that lacked anything for the adults, she managed to brighten up the stage every time she came onto it. The script gave her very little of consequence and somehow she managed to never let that show. Her hypnotising smile just made you feel that it was alright, and that, perhaps, pantomime really is for the children. In addition to the perfect characterisation, she sang like an angel and looked amazing.
I don’t know what it is about pantomimes in 2015, but nearly (very nearly) all that I have seen have been aimed almost exclusively at the 6 to 12 age group. I know that Dereham prides itself on offering a family pantomime but going back a few years I remember crying with laughter at ‘Robinson Crusoe and the Pirates’ with a gag count that numbered over 50 (Yes! I counted them!) This year’s Peter Denyer script was solid enough, but there was nothing for the more…mature. Also in line with this year’s batch, the deviation from the script and incidental audience interaction was minimal, which gave the end product a very safe, very tidy feel. I mean none of this as a criticism, merely an observation from a 52 year old who has found Panto as funny as any 10 year old, and it has to be said, that the substantial junior content in the auditorium seemed more than happy and completely entertained. My compliments to Director and Choreographer, Jean Cator, for an excellent piece of technical direction that I really could not fault and a colourful production that beat the Christmas to New Year blues."