Chris Eldon Lee reviews ‘Jack and The Beanstalk’, which is at Theatr Clwyd in Mold until Saturday 18th of January 2020
It’s not every day you are sitting in the stalls only to be bounced on the bonce by an explosive six-foot sausage.
The sausage in question is destined for the belly of the Giant Blunderbore. But first it has to get there and – in a neat twist on the traditional pantomime chase through the audience – the offending article is the subject of a mass pass-the-parcel game; the ticking of the short fuse giving the process a sense of urgency.
And that’s what I love about Clwyd’s chaotic Christmas show – it has all the classic ingredients of a proper rock and roll Panto … but then pushes them to the absolute limit.
No one does this better than their regular Pantomime Dame, Phylip Harris – who is much more Welsh Prop Forward than stove-pipe-hat little old lady. In the second naughtiest joke in the show (I can’t repeat the first naughtiest) she is, as usual, desperate for a man. Any man. “I want one like Prince Andrew”, she cries. “One that doesn’t sweat.”
In a show that is even more raucous than last year – and much more patriotic – she arrives on a Red Dragon mobility scooter. Her outfit resembles a nervous breakdown in the costume department; her headgear progressing, with each appearance, from a nesting chicken, to a milk churn, to Snowdon on a clear day. Her by-play with the audience is humiliatingly brilliant and her timing in the age-old ‘Who, What, Don’t Know’ routine is ridiculously sharp; even though director Zoe Waterman stretches it beyond breaking point – till even the most resilient of audience members is getting exasperated.
Phyl Harries is Welsh through and through and puts his mother tongue to good use, offering his compatriots jokes we Englisher can’t possibly get – but can jolly well guess. By dividing us, he unites us in laughter.
He’s got a raw rock and roll voice; belting out James Brown’s “I Feel Good”, Madonna’s “Material World” and Aretha’s “Respect” – with the usual assistance of the cuddly toy chorus. And he plays a pretty mean Saxophone. If he’s not the best Dame in the business, I’ll vow only to review Greek Tragedy in future.
But this is far from a one man show. Making a most promising professional debut is the feistiest ‘Jill’ I’ve seen in years, armed with a hotshot catapult and even hotter trumpet. Jessica Jolleys looks an innocent enough Principle Girl, but she makes the most of the ‘right on’ lines Christian Patterson gives her. “I do what I want, when I want!” You have to feel sorry for Peter Moony who plays her pining sweetheart Jack; though Patterson paints them as complete people with real feelings – rather than the usual panto pinups.
There are two unexpected star turns. Ben Lock is an instantly likable six-foot wimp as Jack’s dim brother Tommy. His goofy body language reminds me of the cheesy posing of ‘The Monkees’ in their TV show. Indeed, he has more than a passing resemblance to Micky Dolenz, as he tries hopelessly to score in the audience.
Meanwhile, Adam Barlow, as the Squire, expertly keeps the stream of farting jokes ripe for absolutely ages, and shows off his prowess on a golden hoverboard – careering close enough to the front row to make them flinch for their lives.
Also pushing the envelope is the musical director Tayo Akinbode who, this year, has added unlikely numbers like David Bowie’s ‘Pressure’ and The Jam’s “Town Like Malice” to the more familiar fare.
Everybody but Daisy The Cow plays something superbly – and the good and bad fairies (Katie Elin-Salt and Lynwen Haf Roberts) have fabulous blues voices.
The aerial entrance of the florescent Red Dragon (left in the props store from the previous production, ‘Pavilion’) only goes to underline that this is Wales’s premiere showcase Christmas show.
If only Plaid Cymru’s manifesto was half as entertaining as this, they’d walk it.
Visit www.theatrclwyd.com for bookings & information about Theatr Clwyd.