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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Hexagon - Jack and the Beanstalk

8th December 2007 to 6th January 2008.

From the Oxford Times.

"Where have you come from, love?" asked the stout, jolly Dame Daisy (Christopher Lillicrap) of a lady sitting near the front, during the usual opening banter. "An agency," she replied, displaying a flash of impromptu wit that was often missing in this good-natured and lively version of the familiar tale, with former flame-haired rock singer Toyah Willcox playing Jack, who ends up swapping the family cow for magic beans that sprout into a ladder to an ogre's castle.

With the rare exception of a few barbed comments about the sort of people to be seen in Reading's Oxford Road (which prompted sniggers among the adults), the opening matinee was pitched fair and square at the little ones, although the most raucous members of the audience were a group of adolescent girls from a local school, who cheered and whooped, not least at the antics of Buttercup the cow, who stole the show.

Roller-skating Silly Billy (Harvey James), brother of Jack's girlfriend Jilly (Kelly Bibb), had little trouble stirring up sympathy as he lamented being lonely and single - and successfully encouraged everyone to yell at the giant's henchman, Burp (Simon Ludders). As now seems almost mandatory in pantomime, Burp responded with the catchline made popular in recent years by TV comedienne Catherine Tate: "Am I bovvered?"

The high point was the tunes - a mixture of schmaltzy ballads, soft rock and Broadway-style razzmatazz. Toyah belted out the numbers with gusto, accompanied by agile dancers (On the Other Side of the Tracks proved particularly successful). On one occasion, she was borne aloft by a stiff-backed duo who appeared to have borrowed their look from the German musical synthesizer pioneers Kraftwerk, which was odd, if refreshingly different from the usual thigh-slapping fare.

It was a low-tech production until, to my surprise, the giant appeared on stage in the second act. The towering animated figure was too lumbering to scare even the tiniest folk in the stalls, but was impressively monstrous nonetheless.


From The Stage.

Toyah Wilcox is an energetic performer, brimming over with enthusiasm. I once saw her play the Wicked Queen in Snow White and thought it to be one of the best panto performances ever. However, here as Jack, although she sings her heart out and mugs like crazy, she seems somehow miscast, coming across as oddly irritating.

The show really belongs to Christopher Lillicrap as the warmly grotesque Dame Daisy. He dominates the proceedings with the required hokum, effortlessly joking his way through set pieces such as a lively kitchen scene and a touching duet with Buttercup the Cow. In fact, Buttercup is quite a visual highlight - a wonderful costume, skilfully operated - and the same can be said for the Hen and a rather striking giant.

Attractive sets help to divert attention from a sometimes over-wordy script and occasional peculiar choice of song. Harvey James as a roller skating Silly Billy keeps things moving with inspired dopiness, supported by the likes of Simon Ludders as the creepy henchman, Burp. Tania Whatley and Kelly Bibb, as the Enchantress and Jilly, work with competent professionalism, but the production generally lacks that magic touch of seasonal sparkle.