What do we need? FAB-U-LOUS panto

“I needed that”, said Bromley Buzz co-presenter Zeenat Noorani as she exited the Churchill Theatre on 6th December, after seeing the pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk. It was clear from behind-the-scenes remarks by theatre staff and on-stage ones by the cast that they too welcomed this, an old school, old style, faces to faces experience in which all concerned conspire to have a great time.

Pantomime is a special art form, on the one hand an innocent, laugh a minute spectacle for kids, on the other a succession of gags that it will often take them a decade or more of added lifetime to understand. In a good pantomime, the kids love most of the jokes even as some of the content goes over their heads. Meanwhile, while their accompanying adults get that, they often fail to resist the juvenile humour, and are soon to be seen boo’ing and ‘Oh, no she won’t-ing’ with the best of their young companions. Even so, the real test of the quality of a panto is in the reaction of children, and those present, among them pupils from at least two local primary schools and a nearby Brownies troop, were noisily engrossed from the very start.

Jack and the Beanstalk achieved this delicate balance of pleasure for all brilliantly. The unspoken Master of Ceremonies for the night and co-writer of the script was the well-named ‘Comedy Wordsmith’ Lloyd Hollet, aka Silly Simon (pictured, credit Danny Kaan). The script was a joy, and as Zeenat observed, the tuning of the script to reflect and to poke gentle fun at Bromley (and include the 75 Glades shopping centre businesses Lloyd promised us when interviewed for the Bromley Buzz podcast!), made it extra special. He didn’t tell us, incidentally, that Dame Trot (Darren Machin) would be marvellous, and he was. Nor did he refer to the second half spell of music-based repartee that would have graced any comedy stage.

From the start, the panto was loud (boosted by live musicians in the orchestra pit led by Ian Townsend), big, bold, rousing, and colourful. Did we say big? Big set, big, bright costumes (extra credit to Bethany Page and Celine Castillon for those), big sound, big comedy, big songs. Just big. The deep, roomy stage was well-used for dance numbers that showcased Strictly dancer and judge Anton Du Beke (interview here), at times at home under a glitter ball, and led into some quite demanding wordplay by the Comedy Wordsmith.

To the plot, or at least, a hint of it. Boy (Jack, played by Anton Du Beke) has met girl (Princess Jill, played by Rhiane Drummond, interview here), and is aided by his brother, Silly Simon, in attempting to rescue Daisy the cow from the clutches of Mrs Blunderbore (Rachel Izen) and the hungry Giant, generated in 3D as we donned 3D glasses in the second half, bringing some scary creature moments right into the eyeballs of the audience. Zeenat especially appreciated the immediacy and thrill factor of the 3D, observing that it “added another dimension”.

It isn’t a complex plot, but it works, it has a shape, and it provides the backdrop to the glorious jokes and glitz.

If we were going to channel our inner Craig Revel-Horwood’s, we might say the night ended a little soon, a little abruptly, or warn the parents of very young children that the loudness might put some off, and that one or two characters might have been more to the fore, but why go down that route? We can settle for Craig’s famed summary. This show pulled out all the stops to entertain and to be memorable, and it is FAB-U-LOUS. And big.

The show runs at the Churchill Theatre until 31st December. Tickets here.

Darren Weale and Zeenat Noorani, 6th December 2022


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