Corn Exchange - Jack and the Beanstalk
30th November 2018 to 6th January 2019
Review from the British Theatre Guide and Newbury Weekly News.
The gang are back in Newbury Bottom and they're full of beans
A gigantic helping of magic at the Corn Exchange
Jack and the Beanstalk, at the Corn Exchange until January 6
It’s panto time—oh yes it is!—and the Corn Exchange is looking very festive with a gorgeous tree in the foyer and the auditorium beautifully decorated with festoons of lights, striking murals painted by the community and beanstalks growing up the walls.
This year’s adventure is Jack and the Beanstalk, once again written and directed by Phil Willmott, and he has conjured up the perfect ingredients for a ‘Ginormous’ fun time.
This very special Christmas treat is filled with all the traditional panto elements: wonderfully lavish, sparkling costumes, colourful set, a huge beanstalk and a truly scary giant.
There are some dreadful jokes, some aimed at the adults, including references to Brexit and also local issues such as the green bin costs. There is oodles of audience participation and tomfoolery and the audience loved every minute of it. Watch out for the giant beans and tomato sauce and the hilarious version of Old Macdonald’s Farm.
The ever-popular, talented Matthew Grace makes a welcome return to the stage as Billy Bumpkin. He has a wonderful rapport with the audience who gave him an enthusiastic welcome and we were all happy to join his ‘gang’.
Back in Newbury Bottom, Mrs Bumpkin and her two sons are struggling to make ends meet. Jack, splendidly played by Harry Downes, is on a gap year before going to university whilst his brother Billy does all the chores and looks after Daisy, the blue and pink spotted cow.
Joshua Coley, who was nominated for the National Best Comedy Duo last year, makes his fourth appearance at the Corn Exchange playing the role of Pickle Onion with aplomb. His rivalry with Billy is a joy to watch.
The evil Sir Dastardly is planning to buy up the village and build luxury apartments. Danny Stokes makes a deliciously nasty villain that the audience loved to boo.
High up in the sky, the Giant is getting hungry and his servants, Pickle and Fairy Alfalfa, delightfully performed by Emma Fraser, are trying to save the village from the Giant’s wrath.
Thank goodness for Jill, the professional giant tamer. A feisty performance from Hannah Ponting, who has a lovely singing voice and also falls in love with Jack.
Every panto needs a Dame and Eamonn Fleming, making his Newbury debut, is simply superb with so many costume changes and outrageous puns.
There is excellent support from an accomplished, large, hard-working ensemble: Mikulas Urbanek, Laren Anderson-Oakley, Danny Chesworth and Eva Ross-Davie.
Daniel Maguire’s slick, inventive choreography sparkles and the cast dance with energy and style. The Abba parody compilation is wonderful.
The first act finale, This Is Me from The Greatest Showman, is outstanding and reflects the high professional standards created by this year’s company including impressive lighting by Guy Dickens and music by Richard Baker and Harry Haden-Brown that raise the bar.
All too soon it’s time for the song sheet singing competition and of course it all ends happily.
The Corn Exchange has a “gigantic” hit with this family-friendly panto that should definitely be on your Christmas list. Not to be missed!
Review from Newbury Theatre.
This was the first panto I’ve been to at the Corn Exchange, so I didn’t know what to expect. But the audience clearly did, welcoming back familiar faces from previous years, especially Matthew Grace as Billy Bumpkin, appearing in his seventh Corn Exchange panto. Other returning performers were Joshua Coley as the camp Brummie Pickle Onion and Emma Fraser as Fairy Alfalfa.
Billy warmed us up with jokes and a song, then we met his brother Jack (Harry Downes) and their mum Betty (Eamonn Fleming as a splendid Dame), all living in Newbury Bottom with their much loved cow Daisy. The story of how the cow gets sold for a bag of beans is well known, but there was a twist here – Betty gets tricked into selling Daisy by Sir Dastardly Blaggard (Danny Stokes, who is clearly the baddie from his first appearance, and deserves all the boos he gets). Meanwhile Alfalfa and Pickle, minions of Giant Blunderbore up in the sky, come to Newbury Bottom in a flying saucer to warn the inhabitants of the giant’s carnivorous intentions and to regale us with some terrible jokes.
Writer and director Phil Willmott gets in some local references including West Berks Council’s £50 green bin charge, calling Thatcham a dump (how dare he – that’s where I live) and a naughty dig at the Watermill’s Christmas show. The green bin plays a big part in the madcap ending to the first half, with the cast throwing an assortment of Mrs B’s shopping at the audience, including a teddy bear, a pair of knickers and the contents of a box of cornflakes. The action – and audience interaction – gets more frantic leading to a big song and dance finale.
In the second half, our heroes (including Daisy!) have climbed the beanstalk to the giant’s castle. They give us an Abba song and dance routine with Daisy, including Dairy Queen and “Thank you for your cheeses, for giving us your brie”. At last we get to see the giant and very impressive he is too, at nearly four metres, but more cuddly than scary. I’d have liked to have seen more of him.
It all leads to the inevitable happy ending including a singalong competition for the audience.
The colourful multi-layered set matched the mood of the panto and music was provided by Richard Baker and Harry Haden-Brown. The production hasn’t stinted on costumes – there was a great variety, especially for Dame Bumpkin (although the Handmaid’s Tale costume seemed rather unnecessary). The energetic dancing, choreographed by Daniel Maguire, gave the ensemble a chance to shine.
Phil Willmott has been writing these panto scripts since 2008 and he clearly knows what Newbury likes. Some of the jokes and especially the potter’s wheel scene were a bit near the knuckle, but nothing to prevent this from being a great family show.
So, what are you looking for in your Christmas entertainment? If you want a show peppered with d-list celebs or a sedate, cerebral show, this isn’t for you. What you get here is a traditional pantomime with good acting, song and dance, some awful jokes and lots of audience interaction.