Grand serves up traditional fare

Now there's fruity: Dame Trot, Nigel Ellacott, takes us on a journey to exotic, magical . . . Bilston Market. Pictures: Gavin Dickson

Jack and the Beanstalk

Wolverhampton Grand

****

WITH Sherrie Hewson and Ken Morley in the cast this was streets ahead of the opposition and with Keith Harris as well, it was really giving them the bird.

All right, I know, I should get out more but panto with its collection of jokes and routines that have become old friends is infectious.

The Grand's festive offering is unashamedly traditional and although it might be light on the sort of special effects we have come to expect - a flying horse and 3D in recent years – and doesn't manage much in the way of a wow factor, it does provide solid entertainment and passed the lights test with flying colours.

At a panto you can always tell when kids are becoming bored and losing interest when the light sabres and flashing windmills start to light up giving a decent imitation of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. When they are hooked the audience is in relative darkness – that is the light test.

Hyphenated in love: Sophie Brooke-Ford as Princess Apricot and Ben James-Ellis as Jack Trot

Jack might not have the wow factor but it did have the big advantage of two seasoned panto legends in Keith Harris, with Orville and that monkey, and one of the best dames in the business, Nigel Ellacott, as Dame Trot.

Harris, or at least his menagerie, have the ability to be rude, which children love, without being crude or offensive mixing in some much more subtle humour for mums and dads. He is almost a throwback as a comic these days, cheeky, cheery, with jokes and quips - a consummate professional who lifts any show when he walks on stage.

Meanwhile Ellacott is all a dame should be, brash, saucy as a McGill postcard, and with an eye on the main chance . . . or failing that . . . any chance. He has a different costume for every scene and doesn't delve into the over-campness that some dames employ. A dame is a bloke in a dress, not drag.

Sherrie Hewson, of Coronation Street, is a sort of baddie as Lady Temple-Savage . . . sort of . . . she is just too nice to be a baddie, indeed she is booed with unbridled enthusiasm simply because she asked the audience if they could mind booing her whenever she appeared.

Her disguise as a hippy from the Wednesbury Rock Festival  added laughs to her performance but her attempts at a Swedish milkmaid in pink, sort of Dutch carpet clogs, was a classic of fun as she tried to persuade Jack to sell his cow – the excellent Day-Zee.

The accent, a sort of sing-song  speech defect, could have been from any part of the known universe – except Sweden – and how Jack managed to follow what was going on, or not going on, or should have been going on . . . "Is it me now?"-   is one of life's mysteries.

Mind you when the giant is dead and Lady Temple-Savage has lost her protector we get an insight into the minds of children when the audience is asked what the King, Jack and so on should do with her. “Kill her!” came the reply. They don't take prisoners in Wolverhampton.

Ben James-Ellis, (Dreamboats and Petticoats, Any Dream Will Do semi-finalist) is a personable lad with a decent voice and grows on you as Jack, our hero in all this. His prize for slaying the giant is the hand of Princess Apricot – just the hand, what about the rest? (that was one line missing so I thought I would throw it in for old time's sake).

Apricot, Sophie Brooke-Ford, is a sweet young thing who is happily kidnapped and rescued by Jack and sings the only real solo of the show, singing it well enough to keep the waving lights down to a minimum.

Her father, the King, is played by Ken Morley, who was Reg Holdsworth in Coronation Street as well as General Leopold Von Flockenstuffen in ‘Allo . ‘Allo who helps bring a sense of fun to the whole show.

Balancing the baddie, after all panto is about good triumphing over evil, we have Fairy Fortune played by the ever reliable Niki Evans – a pity she never really had a chance to let us hear her lovely voice.

Don't ask . . . Sherrie Hewson  as Lady Temple-Savage, disguised as a Swedish milkmaid complete with bag of beans in one of the funniest scenes of the show

The Giant, Blunderbore, is a bit of a lumbering affair, 12ft ir so and a bit too slow and cumbersome to be really frightening while the inflatable beanstalk is big but just for effect,  no one is ever going to climb it which makes the death of the giant is a bit of an anti-climax.

The show, written by Jonathan Kiley and Michael Vivian and directed by Andrew Lynford, is salted heavily with local references, down to individual Wolverhampton streets with Dame Trot, an a Carmen Miranda get up in a glorious send up of Barry Manilow's Copcabana re-written as Bilston Market, supported by the excellent chorus.

Which is a place to mention the equally excellent orchestra under Musical Director David Lane rounding off what is an entertaining panto. It has plenty of scene changes. with no break in the action to slow things down, and some good sets for the main scenes allieds to some fabulous costumes. It is a show suitable for all ages from toddlers on their first experience of the magic of theatre to maiden aunts who expect the legs of the piano to be covered up!

Mind you the best line of the night was not in the script.

On Press night among the guests were the Lord Mayor of Wolverhampton along with the Mayors of surrounding towns such as Sandwell, Walsall and Dudley and during the interval when a group of the dignitaries was asked what was the collective noun for a gathering of mayors? Councillor Melvyn Mottram, the Mayor of Dudley, a twinkle in his eye, came back, quick as a flash: “A chain gang”. Boom! Boom! To 20-01-13.

Roger Clarke 

 

And from the wings . . . .

***

TRUST a cheeky monkey to thrill hundreds of children in the audience and provide a cracking finale to this happy pantomime.

Cuddles the chimp may be No. 2 in the pecking order to that daffy duck, Orville, but his late appearance after the demise of the huge and nasty Giant Blunderbore ignites youngsters who are no doubt well past their bedtime.

Operated, of course, by the legendary Keith Harris, Cuddles has the kids - and mums and dads - howling with laughter at his rather rude antics while the rest of the cast are preparing for the colourful finale.

Ventroliquist Harris has been around a long time, but his act - largely with the loveable Orville - is as fresh and funny as ever and certainly the highlight of an enjoyable panto which, however, lacks any spectacular special effects and has a rather pedestrian opening.

Popular actress Sherrie Hewson, of Coronation Street and Loose Women fame, plays Lady Temple-Savage, the giant's glamorous henchwomen, and she encourages the customers to boo her long and loud every time she appears on stage. They oblige.

Another Corrie veteran, Ken Morley, plays the King, with Ben James-Ellis (Dreamboats and Petticoats vocalist and Any Dream Will Do semi-finalist) playing Jack and Sophie Brooke-Ford as Princess Apricot.

Nigel Ellacott is a very amusing Dame Trot, Niki Evans plays Fairy Fortune, and a special mention is due for Day-Zee the panto cow with a realistic moo and an ability to deliver milk - by the bottle.

Directed by Andrew Lynford with David Lane's musical direction, Jack and the Beanstalk runs to 20.01.13

Paul Marston 

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