Jack and the Beanstalk, The Capitol pantomime 2017, Horsham, until December 31
There’s a real sense of excitement in the air at the start of The Capitol’s latest pantomime – Jack and the Beanstalk.
As the lights dim, the audience falls silent before the giant’s voice booms out across the theatre.
“Fee-fi-fo-fum,” he begins, bellowing out those immortal lines in a strangely familiar voice, which, I remember halfway through, belongs to Brian Blessed OBE.
This thunderous speech is certainly a gripping way to start the show, freezing the youngsters in their seats before Fairy Potter (Jill Greenacre) and her magical friends appear to lighten the tone.
Skipping onstage to confront Fleshcreep (Chris Edgerley playing the giant’s henchman) with a jaunty musical number, the fairies set up the timeless theme of good versus evil.
Then, the curtain rises on the cheery district of ‘Horsham’ with its storybook vistas, colourful costumes and happily dancing villagers.
It’s the kind of high-quality entertainment that Capitol theatregoers have come to expect from the venue’s festive production.
The story, as usual, is easy to follow, which is ideal for the younger audience members.
The townspeople are being ruled by the cruel giant Blunderbore who lives in the clouds while his assistant Fleshcreep demands high taxes that the townspeople cannot pay.
Jack (Olly Pike), his mother Dame Trott (Hywel Dowsell) and his brother Simple Simon (James Fletcher), fail to make ends meet at their dairy and have to sell their beloved cow Daisy.
To make things worse, Fleshcreep tricks Jack into selling Daisy for a bag of beans.
But, the kindhearted Fairy Potter casts a spell on the seemingly useless seeds and they grow into a gigantic beanstalk.
When Jack’s love-interest, Princess Apricot (Lauren Osborn), is captured by Fleshcreep, Jack decides to become a hero and climbs the beanstalk to get her back.
The plot offers few surprises for anyone who’s familiar with the fairytale.
Instead, the simple structure offers plenty of room for quirky embellishments, enjoyable slapstick comedy, loopy reworded pop songs and even a few sly jokes that only adults will understand.
The scene where Jack, his hapless brother and King Crumble (Richard Alan) try to make ice cream is a stand-out moment.
A voice-activated machine that squirts ice cream into a cone held by someone underneath it? What could go wrong?
James Fletcher is clearly having a whale of a time here, providing this panto with a performance that’s a million miles away from his troubled teenage character in Hollyoaks.
The happy-go-lucky sidekick bounds across the stage, immediately getting the young audience on his side with his irrepressible cheerfulness.
Another highlight is Princess Apricot’s version of the Bonnie Tyler single ‘I Need a Hero’, which Lauren Osborn performs with real power and flair.
The Capitol always picks excellent singers to play the princess, but this number’s particularly exciting as the fair maiden is joined onstage by Spiderman, Superman, Batman and Thor for the dance routine.
While not as strong at singing, Jill Greenacre delivers some fun dialogue as Fairy Potter, including one of the show’s best lines (resulting in one of the biggest laughs) about the size of Jack’s axe.
Olly Pike’s performance of ‘I Believe’, a rewritten (and clean) version of a song from The Book of Mormon, is a memorable moment too.
Starring in The Capitol panto for the fourth year, Olly is a good all-rounder, handling the singing, dancing, acting and clowning in a way that makes it look easy.
Horsham favourite Richard Alan puts in another winning performance too as a King who’s ready to roll up his sleeves and help the townspeople. Lively, good natured and, above all, funny, Richard seems to truly understand what panto is all about.
As does Hywel Dowsell. At only 25, he makes a fantastic Dame, delivering all the traditional panto routines beautifully, all while being as comical and mumsy as possible. The “it’s behind you” bit gets a hysterical response from the young audience.
Hywel’s good at ad-libbing too, taking time out of a chase scene to make fun of one theatregoer’s dress sense. Pantomime Dames, as we all know, are renowned for their impeccable taste in fashion.
Overall, the good guys are a pretty enthusiastic bunch.
But maybe it’s Chris Edgerley who’s having the most fun. Best known for presenting the kids’ TV show Hi-5 (and for playing heroic characters in other pantomimes), this is his first panto as a baddie and he fully embraces the role. He sneers, he snarls and he taunts everyone to a well-deserved symphony of boos. If he had a moustache he’d twirl it.
However, as that scary opening quatrain makes clear, the real villain of this show is the giant Blunderbore, whose roaring voice is heard frequently throughout the performance, building up the mystery of what he might look like.
Without giving too much away, Blunderbore makes an impressive entrance and becomes an intimidating presence onstage without being too frightening for young children.
In short then, The Capitol team have done it again.
Their 2017 panto offers more than enough music, magic and merriment to keep the whole family entertained this winter.
Oh, and the beanstalk looks great too.
Jack and the Beanstalk is at The Capitol, Horsham, until December 31.
Tickets are on sale from 01403 750220 or www.thecapitolhorsham.com.
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