Review: Jack and the Beanstalk at New Wimbledon Theatre
I did wonder how Al Murray, best known for his alter ego as the Pub Landlord, would fare as he made his pantomime debut in Wimbledon this week.
But it was clear from the start that he was very comfortable in the role of 'Barman Al' in Jack and the Beanstalk and positively seemed to enjoy the experience of treading the boards at The New Wimbledon Theatre.
He played the brother of Jack Trot who had to climb the beanstalk, outwit the evil Giant Blunderbore and win the hand of beautiful Princess Apricot.
Starring alongside Al Murray, Jack’s mother Dame Trot was played by one of the UK's most famous panto dames - actor Clive Rowe.
Rowe was last heard (and briefly seen) at New Wimbledon Theatre when he voiced Audrey II, the infamous man-eating plant in the musical Little Shop of Horrors.
He soon established a great rapport with the audience, including those plucked out to participate in the show almost right from the start. Barman Al also proved to be a 'dab hand' at the panto tradition of audience participation.
This show does have everything else you'd expect from a panto - dazzling scenery, stunning costumes, special effects, comedy animals, a few 'local' references (Croydon seems to get a derogatory mention at every Wimbledon panto) and a handful of song & dance routines. Admittedly the story itself is a tad irrelevant, and somehow there's no mention of magic beans until almost the end of Act One.
But Barman Al and Dame Trott manage to keep all ages enthralled throughout, with a slightly toned-down version of Al's Pub Landlord routine proving a hit with the adults. The finale of Act One really has the 'wow factor' when Al pilots a helicopter over the audience. I can't quite remember how it fitted into the plot, but it was a memorable few minutes.
The special effects are back in Act Two when we are transported to the Giant's Castle in Cloudland via our 3D glasses when all kinds of creepy crawlies come a bit too close for comfort!
There's time made for Al to read the traditional birthday list, which ends with the birthday of his own new arrival - Daisy, who was born earlier that day!
After that we're all in the mood for a happy ending when Jack, played by Liam Tame, weds Princess Apricot (Charlotte Gooch). The Trots' animals - including Aretha the loveable cow - were all also rescued from evil Fleshcreep (John Jack). On that note, a special mention must go to the youngsters of the South London Dance Studios who made a wonderful job of playing the sheep.
I did miss a 'big number' to finish the show off, with a chance for the audience to get on their feet to join in. There was no doubt that the cast and The New Wimbledon Theatre Orchestra would have been up to it. The audience would definitely have responded positively.
This year's panto is produced by Qdos Entertainment, the world’s biggest pantomime producer, in a new partnership with New Wimbledon Theatre operators ATG. It was a marked improvement on last year's show, and I noted that they're already advertising next year's panto, Aladdin.
By Sue Choularton
December 13, 2017