This year marks two anniversaries for Nottingham Playhouse. Firstly, the 50th anniversary of the 'new' theatre building that opened on 11th December 1963 with a performance of Shakespeare's Coriolanus with a stellar cast including John Neville, Sir Ian McKellen and Michael Crawford. Since 1963 the iconic building has seen many a brilliant season of entertainments and plays new and old including many a world première and the eagerly anticipated annual pantomime.
The second anniversary celebrates the last 30 years that Kenneth Alan Taylor has enchanted Nottingham Playhouse goers with his popular traditional pantomimes. His very first at the Playhouse was Jack and the Beanstalk. Alan Taylor was Artistic Director in 1984 and he launched the pantomime tradition even though at the time it was deemed to be in direct competition to the major pantomime at Nottingham's Theatre Royal. This is a tradition of which he has been the central part in writing, directing and starring in ever since and audiences come back year after year to enjoy his work.
The Panto this year sees some new faces and some eagerly welcomed back to the Playhouse stage. Of course we have Kenneth Alan Taylor as Dame Daisy, surely one of the best dames in the country – hilariously funny with just the right amount of cheek – brilliant in his quick change and ever more outrageous and glamorous costumes and clearly a huge favourite with the Nottingham audience. AlanTaylor says that he loves the ad libbing in Panto and the whole team revel in this without losing the plot. Almost.
What is a pantomime without a principal boy? Rebecca Little returns this year as Jack and bounces around the stage full of beans and enthusiasm and thigh slapping excitement. Little encourages the audience to shout out “I'm all right Jack!”and right from the second Jack appears we are with him on his journey to reluctantly sell the cow to get some money to pay the rent on his mother's cottage. The moments in which Buttercup the cow is taken away to the market are actually very touching.
Jack's love interest is played with verve and vigour by Kelly Edwards who has previously appeared in the chorus of five pantomimes and this year has a main part as Annie. Edwards gives the role great warmth and feeling and the Nottingham audience take to her immediately. Her singing and dancing really light up the glittery stage. In this production Jack also has another friend in Danny played with enormous energy, humour and warmth by the talented Tim Frater. The kids in the audience love him especially in the custard pie scene and for his wonderful dancing skills.
Enter the comic baddy Slurp performed with gusto by John Elkington, dressed in black and keen to be booed each time he appears. In the second half we meet his master Giant Blunderbore (Daniel Hoffman - Gill) in the giant's kitchen. Hoffman – Gill imbues the role with deep voiced gravitas and looks terrific and as he lumbers around the stage in his glittering suit of armour. Does courageous Jack kill the man eating giant? Well you'll have to go and see to find out. Oh yes you will!
You'd expect a giant's wife to be, well, a giant. But no. Mrs Blunderbore is maybe small in stature but as the second dame Anthony Hoggard is very very big in character! This is Hoggard's sixth panto at the Nottingham Playhouse and he clearly loves it. A bundle of be-frocked energy Hoggard plays up to every aspect of being another fun pantomime dame and the two dames work terrifically together and their joy in doing so is infectious.
The whole story of Jack and his magic beans wouldn't exist without a special person to sell him the magic beans in exchange for the cow in the first place and that special person is the beautiful Enchantress. Hannah Whittingham brings grace and beauty to the role and not a small amount of comedy and personal control as she deals with Dame Daisy's hilarious ad libbing.
Finally the Playhouse have a fantastic professional chorus of young women in Jack and the Beanstalk performing the frequent dancing scenes that involve anything from tap dancing to the marvellous dancing rabbits all to John Morton and his band's lively music.
If you are looking for a terrific, proper traditional pantomime to take the whole family to. then Jack and the Beanstalk at Nottingham Playhouse has to be it – great fun – fantastic sets by stage designer Tim Meacock – the cast clearly revelling in presenting the show - loads of audience participation and, as Kenneth Alan Taylor said at the stunning finale - a great deal of passionate teamwork from everybody at Nottingham Playhouse!
Running until Saturday 18th January 2014
Nottingham Playhouse box office number is 0115 941 9419
This FIVE STAR review was originally for www.thepublicreviews.co.uk and was published Sunday December 1st 2013