Christmas pantomimes at St Helens Theatre Royal are a traditional treat and now half-term pantos are a firm favourite as they coincide with local school holidays; children and families can attend a show and enjoy retro slapstick and sing along to musical chart hits whilst enjoying the dancing and singing on stage.
As you walk into St Helens Theatre Royal, it’s rather like stepping back in time. The small, old- fashioned theatre entices theatregoers to buy sweets and ice cream from the kiosk and the corner counter is twinkling with fairy lights from the colourful swords and fairy wands it sells which all the children clamour to buy.
The theatre was full, and all eyes were on the stage as youngsters with their parents and grandparents waited for the curtain to rise. When it did, it opened to explosions and smoke plumes as Catherine Cunningham as Mrs Fleshcreep entered, quickly establishing herself as the panto baddie before Jenna Sian O’hara as Fairy Mary took to the stage as narrator.
Everyone is familiar with the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, the rags to riches tale of a young boy who sells the family’s cow for a handful of beans, getting him into a lot of trouble with his mother as the family are very poor. But the story takes a fairy-tale twist when the beans take root and grow into a magnificent beanstalk which reaches up into the clouds to a magic castle high in the sky where a giant lives.
This production relies heavily on the skills of Reece Sibbald who writes and performs as Simple Simon in this fairy-tale creation. He is brilliant at both; he is a panto veteran and his rapport with the audience is excellent; how he remembers his heavy-loaded script is to be commended. His banter with grown-ups and the children is extraordinary. There was audience participation, and one person in particular was reluctantly drawn into the production as Mark Two as Dame Dolly Trott cited him as wanting to be her boyfriend throughout the performance. Additionally, four children were chosen to go up on stage to play instruments with Simple Simon to the tune of I am the Music Man. Sibbald joked with the children, aged from 3 to 9 years remarkably well and probably made their night as he is expert at what he does; it is evident that he fully enjoys writing and appearing in the panto. From his silly faces, silly walks and thoroughly energetic physical routines to his excellent rendition of a very lengthy homage to all performers from the North West of UK, culminating in a tribute to Sir Ken Dodd, he is a star. At one point Sibbald is on a go-cart which gets a bit out of hand when he goes too fast and bumps into the other performers which the children laughed a lot at.
Timothy Lucas is a very Scouse Jack Trott; he has a remarkable stage presence; his powerful singing voice was excellent, and his dance moves brilliant. Catherine Cunningham excelled as Mrs Fleshcreep, the baddie and Olivia Sloyan as the Princess performed confidently. I lost count of the number of costume changes Mark Two as Dame Dolly Trott had to do, as each time she came onto stage she was wearing a different outfit. Her costumes and wigs were colourful, over-the-top and extremely fitting for her part. I think my favourite was the one she wore whilst singing Stand By Your Man as it featured an enormous animal printed Stetson hat over a massive Dolly Partonesque wig. As she sang, she stood in front of a false pair of shapely legs, crossed over to make it look as though she was sitting on a hay bale, very clever.
A few current jokes about Brexit and Donald Trump were thrown in plus some sexual innuendo for the adults along with customary bottom-burping jokes for the kids and a few gibes about the local districts near to the theatre.
An excellent section using Black Theatre Puppetry was featured in the second half which all the children thoroughly enjoyed using ultra-violet lights and pop music hits which was very entertaining.
It is a very energetic production and the cast’s enthusiasm shines through. There are lots of opportunities to clap and sing along with the cast as they belt out numbers such as It’s Not Unusual, Together Forever, Happiness and Disco Inferno. The supporting dancers are excellent; their routines included acrobatics and physical dexterity and a mention for the cow performers, Ruby Grant and Grainne Jones is a must.
At various times in the show there are loud bangs and flames of fire discharging from the stage culminating in the climax at the end which all added to the excitement and pleasure of a very entertaining production.
Regal Entertainments are presenting Jack and the Beanstalk from 21st-31st October 2021 https://www.sthelenstheatreroyal.com/whats-on/
Reviewer: Anne Pritchard
Reviewed: 23rd October 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★