There’s nothing like a good panto to chase away the January blues and in Mountbatten Players’ “Jack And The Beanstalk”, 2019 got off to a glittery, toe-tapping start. The sheer scale of the story of ‘Jack And The Beanstalk’ is such that even the most ambitious of theatrical productions must rely a great deal on the audience’s imagination. Fortunately, ambition and imagination are both in plentiful supply for the Mountbatten Players.
Starting as an amateur troop in Countess Mountbatten House, an NHS Hospice for patients with cancer, the group traces its origins back to the staff tradition of putting on sketches and entertainment for the patients and each other. The Mountbatten Players produced their first pantomime in 1991 and now boast over sixty members from all walks of life who continue to celebrate the links with Countess Mountbatten Hospital and retain a passion for amateur dramatics with a professional outlook.
That passion and enthusiasm shine through in this bright and breezy production which sees the residents of the quaint village of Lower Piddle dealing with the evil Giant Blunderbore who has terrorised the land for years. The script takes an endearingly ramshackle approach to plot, meandering in and out of the beanstalk story you’ll be familiar with to accommodate those panto staples of character shtick and musical set pieces, giving every member of the talented cast opportunities to shine. There’s Dame Trot, fond of a bargain, and her pursuit of the King whose untended fortune she dreams of spending, her son Jack and his paramour Jill (destined to be kidnapped by the Giant’s henchman the despicable Blackhead) plus Jill’s brother Muddles, a pair of comedy bailiffs and, of course, Daisy the cow. We’re guided – and younger children reassured – throughout the story by a kindly vegetarian fairy too, which is very welcome when we get to the bit about the big scary dragon!
The script is playfully witty, salted with set-ups and pay-offs both giggle and groan-inducing and peppered with topical references both national (hello, Brexit) and domestic (a dig at a local Eastlight school) but always in gentle good fun. The costumes are tremendous, matched by the lighting, sets and stage effects which belie the company’s amateur status but it’s in the musical numbers that the show really pulls out all the stops. “Jack And The Beanstalk” is a marvelously eclectic jukebox musical combining up to date tunes from the likes of Taylor Swift, George Ezra and Ed Sheeran with some older crowdpleasers like ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky”, S Club 7’s dance-along favourite “Reach” and even a couple of songs borrowed from “Half A Sixpence” but it’s a frankly breathtaking restaging of ‘The Greatest Show’ from perennial Craggus family favourite “The Greatest Showman” which sees the cast and crew achieve something truly spectacular; probably the best performance of the number I’ve seen outside the original movie.
All in all, a wonderfully warm and funny time was had by the whole family– it was so good that the first thing both Cragglings said was that they wanted to see it again and so we went back the very next day and enjoyed just as much the second time around. Unfortunately, at the time of writing this review, that’s not something you can do because the show ended its run on Sunday 13th January but, if nothing else, this will hopefully encourage you to keep an eye on the Mountbatten Players’ website (http://www.mountbattenplayers.co.uk) for news of their next production and you can bet your last magic bean that they’ve ‘stalked’ their claim to very top of my Christmas to-do list for next year.