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Jack and the Beanstalk: Rock 'N' Roll Panto

Following on from last year's hugely successful production of The Snow Queen, The New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich returns with their annual rock and roll pantomime which is once again available in person, and performances are being live-streamed worldwide. I opted for the latter choosing to watch the show from the comfort of my bedroom.

Written by New Wolsey Artistic Director Peter Rowe with slick direction by Kate Golledge, Jack and The Beanstalk offers a fantastic couple of hours of entertainment. 

The production tells of Jack and his wife-to-be, Jill, who are preparing for their wedding when a giant that if Jack doesn't bring some gold within 24 hours the villagers will all be eaten. It's up to Jack and co to save the day and defeat the giant and save the villagers.

Steve Simmonds as Dame Dolly Durden. Photo by Mike Kwasniak.

The cast of 8 actor-musicians clearly has a blast performing this year's show. It's full of clever jokes, some that will go right over the youngster's heads, and a toe-tapping soundtrack of pop tunes from 'Marry You' by Bruno Mars, to 'Rain On Your Parade' by Duffy or 'Take On Me' by A-ha

The design is superb with sets and costumes by Neil Irish, the giant puppet is impressive in its scale as is the beanstalk which Jack climbs up at the end of the first act. Effective lighting by Richard G Jones is outstanding in setting the mood for each scene.

Much like the Snow Queen, the pantomime cleverly uses videos filmed in and around Ipswich and designed by Jake Barinov and Peter Hazelwood, including Jack taking Bessie the Cow around the area before he decides to sell her on. There's a tremendous section at the start of act two as Jack climbs up the beanstalk going higher and higher encountering famous characters along the way. 

Returning to the New Wolsey and undoubtedly the star of the show is Steve Simmonds who plays Jack's mother, Dame Dolly Durden. His presence lights up the stage throughout and his comic timing is first-rate, he is hilarious especially as he delivers lines directly to the audience, including a gentleman called Morgan who is singled out on the press performance. Simmonds has great interaction with James Haggie's Billy, who has an unrequited love for Jill and is another comic delight.

Danielle Piper and Neil Urquhart, Photo by Mike Kwasniak

Neil Urquhart has a likable presence and great vocals as Jack. He is matched perfectly to Daniella Piper's warm Jill. Nicola Bryan is deliciously menacing as the giant's evil sidekick Fleshcreep. Natasha Magigi impresses as Fairy Aubergine who is a guiding presence for Jack's journey throughout. Daniel Carter-Hope commands the stage well as Squire Snuffbox. The looming giant is played by Joe Butcher who has the right menace in his voice.

As with the best pantomimes, there's plenty of audience interaction including a hilarious scene in the latter part of act two where the cast don masks and run into the crowd spraying the audience with 'hand sanitizer' over the crowd. The performance ends with Rick Astley's big hit 'Never Gonna Give You Up' and an encore of One Direction's 'What Makes You Beautiful' that sends the audience out on a high.

New Wolsey Theatre once again provides another dose of festive family entertainment that will delight all ages. Providing not just enjoyment for those in the theatre itself but audiences watching at home too where none of the magic is lost. Full of heart, great music, and a top-notch cast. It's a giant amount of fun.

Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Jack and the Beanstalk: A Rock 'N' Roll pantomime runs at The New Wolsey Theatre until January 8th, 2022 with performances in person and streaming online. Tickets are available from The New Wolsey website

Natasha Magigi. Photo by Mike Kwasniak.

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