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Review: Jack and the Beanstalk at St Helens Theatre Royal ****

Regal Entertainments has made a name for itself with its seasonal entertainment over quarter of a century, securing creative director Jane Joseph the unofficial title of Merseyside’s Queen of Panto along the way.

And for many, it’s just not Christmas, or half-term, or – in this case – Easter without a trip to St Helens Theatre Royal to see a panto.

But with the Coronavirus pandemic rolling into a second year, and theatre doors still firmly shut, the team (Joseph and director Chantelle Nolan) have returned to the online streaming world which they first entered last December.

Jack and the Beanstalk, the tall tale of the dairy boy, his cow, a bag of beans and a very hungry giant, is being broadcast direct to audiences’ electronic devices twice daily until Sunday.

All the key elements of a Regal/St Helens panto remain, albeit in rectangular small screen form.

There’s a tight script from Reece Sibbald (who also plays gormless Simple Simon) which keeps the gags – many, many of them bodily-function related – ticking along through the show’s 90-minute running time.

Jack (Timothy Lucas) and Doddy the cow. Above: Dame Trott (Jamie Greer) and Simple Simon (Reece Sibbald)

Happily he doesn’t dwell on Covid although there are a couple of subtle blink-and-you-miss them nods; an allusion to a vaccine passport and a quote from the late Captain Tom Moore – “tomorrow will be a good day”.

Elsewhere Sibbald and the creative team weave together the panto’s narrative arc with a catholic series of big set song-and-dance numbers from the opening Footloose through a nod to Tim Minchin’s sublime Matilda (Revolting Children), a bit of Half a Sixpence (Flash, Bang, Wallop!), a touch of Jason and Kylie, a soupçon of Tom Jones and Queen, and a belting rendition of Queen of the Night from Abigail Middleton as the evil Mrs Fleshcreep.

While there are times the lighting is too blue and dark for the cameras meaning you have to peer at your screen, overall the clarity of the viewing experience and the sound quality of the recorded and edited show is very good.

And the actors deliver Nazene Langfield’s crisp choreography with energy and precision.

Fee fi fo fum! Princess Jasmine (Olivia Sloyan), Mrs Fleshcreep (Abigail Middleton) and the Giant

It’s not easy to be zany and energetic to an empty auditorium, so hats off to the cast including Timothy Lucas (returning to St Helens panto with his trademark cheeky performance and John Bishop drawl) as the lovestruck Jack, Jenna Sian O’Hara’s eye-rolling Fairy Mary, Olivia Sloyan (Princess Jasmine) and Jamie Greer as Dame Gertie Trott, for never letting that energy drop.

Panto is all about audience reaction of course, and Greer and Sibbald valiantly attempt to reach beyond the bounds of the screen to engage young viewers at home, with mixed success.

Because sadly, however wired on sugar from massive Easter egg consumption your young audience might be, remote viewing just can’t recreate that feeling of being in an auditorium, laughing together at the pratfalls, groaning at gags, booing the baddie and blocking your ears from the ear-splitting decibel level of screams as the ‘ghostie’ stalks the hapless Trotts.

Still, while we wait for a return to ‘normal’ life, the show must go on - and chapeau to the team at Regal Entertainments for making sure it does.


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