Words & pic of cast by Amelia Daly
The pantomime, a cherished English tradition often underestimated in its artistry, set the stage for a magical evening as we settled into our seats at Sutton Town Hall for Talegate Theatre’s production of Jack and the Beanstalk.
Anticipating an enchanting Christmas-filled performance, the dimming lights accentuated the glow of head crowns and scattered plastic toys throughout the audience. The atmosphere buzzed with anticipation, particularly among the children perched on the edge of their seats, eagerly awaiting the show to commence.
Danny Mills, with his impeccable outfits and comedic ability, undeniably stole the show with his spot-on portrayal of the Dame, captivating the audience with every appearance. His comedic timing delivered the classic panto lines with ease whilst still making us feel shocked. And, adding another string to his bow, the majority of the diverse array of outfits worn by Mills were handmade by the talented actor himself. Stepping onto the stage in a striking cow-print ensemble, complete with a stylish hat and a ‘hot to trot’ necklace, Mills seamlessly blended camp and fashion.
The rest of the cast varied in quality; some of the singing fell short, and the acting was occasionally unconvincing. However, the ‘art of panto’ was mastered by certain cast members more effectively than others. Notably, Billy, portrayed by Tommy Murry, captured the essence of high energy and slapstick timing admirably. Jack, played by Harry Hindley, showcased commendable singing ability and portrayed believable character moments. Although both of their dancing lacked consistency and occasionally fell out of sync.
The choice of casting a woman, Rachel Richards, as the villain Slimeball was a refreshing departure from the norm and added a unique dimension. However, Richards failed to evoke a sense of intimidation; the antagonist lacked the menacing presence needed to elicit fear – even that onstage anticipation as an audience shouts out where the enemy may or may not be standing.
Nevertheless, the giant was genuinely scary, and the costumed performers shined, including the cow that, at times, stole the spotlight with their physical performance. The dance musical number stood out as another highlight, flawlessly performed by a group of incredibly heartwarming and adorable young dancers who – alongside Mills – confidently stole the show.
The obligatory inclusion of audience participation, especially the game of catch and throwing a necklace full of toilet rolls, brought a delightful interactive element that connected well with the crowd. (Perhaps my personal experience enhanced the enjoyment, as I happened to be an adept catcher of the toilet roll, making it a particularly memorable and engaging moment for me.)
However, at the beginning of the second act, when Jack and Billy successfully reached the top of the beanstalk, the humour took an unfortunate turn with repeated fat jokes aimed at the Dame. And in the context of 2023, such jokes feel cheap, outdated, and lacking humour.
While pantomimes often embrace plot holes and playfully poke fun at themselves, the notion that the Dame couldn’t ascend a ‘magic’ beanstalk due to a certain size felt strained. Especially considering that a four-legged cow effortlessly navigated the same beanstalk several times.
Overall, Talegate Theatre’s production of Jack in the Beanstalk at Sutton Town Hall was a delightful night that perfectly encapsulated what a local pantomime should be — a fantastic dose of Christmas fun. The show catered wonderfully to a diverse audience, ensuring enjoyment for every member of the family. Regardless of whether the actors hit every mark, the cast were great at creating a fun atmosphere.
If I were a resident of the Royal Town, or could get my way to Sutton Town Hall, I would undoubtedly make the trip to experience this festive piece of joy during the holiday season.
Jack and the Beanstalk runs at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall until 31 December, as presented by Talegate Theatre Productions – with tickets priced from £19/26 (children aged 2-16) and £26/29 (adults).
For more information and links to online ticket sales visit: www.suttoncoldfieldtownhall.com/pantomime-2023
For more on Talegate Theatre Productions visit: www.talegatetheatre.co.uk
For more from Sutton Coldfield Town Hall visit: www.suttoncoldfieldtownhall.com