Jack and the Beanstalk

The weather outside is dull and drizzly so it must be pantomime season, just the thing to chase away those winter blues. Panto is a centuries-old theatrical tradition which has evolved into a totally OTT cross-dressing, saucy song and dance piss-take loosely based on a fairy tale, fable or folklore. Kids love it and, for many, it’s their first taste of live theatre. Grown-ups love it too, catching the ripe gags that fly over the heads of the little ‘uns. Often a little bit naff, Panto is always great fun. And it’s profitable, keeping many a local theatre in the black for the rest of the year.

We’ve done two pantos this season – both versions of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’. The first beanfeast was at the glorious London Palladium starring the incomparable Julian Clary as the Spirit of the Beans, brought up the rear by a host of top notch familiar faces. The Palladium gig is the annual headliner, panto-wise – getting the full-on West End treatment with no sequin spared. Julian stole every scene with one outrageous costume after another and all the best lines. It was a glorious belly-laugh of the lewd, the crude and the rude. All in the best possible taste – not.

The second interpretation, at the Fisher Theatre in nearby Bungay, was a more modest affair. It was surprisingly good; a few missteps, the odd fluffed line and an emergency stand in due to illness but that’s par for the course in amdram-land. None of that mattered, especially to the army of kiddies in the audience who lapped up every silly joke and every slapstick moment. Great fun for all the family in a cute local theatre with a fab little bar attached. Wonderful.

Like a Million Party Poppers

Last year New Year’s Eve pyrotechnics were all big bangs but no punters. The pandemic saw to that. This year, punters were back in force, lining the banks of the Thames. To mark their return, London Mayor Sadiq Khan put on a show of shock and awe. There were nods to various events from 2022 – the lionesses’ historic win in the Euros, fifty years of London Pride, standing tall with Ukraine and, of course, remembering Her Maj. The sky exploded like a million party poppers, a spectacular musical extravaganza to celebrate London’s extraordinary diversity and strong sense of inclusion – a city for all – and it was a marvellous sight to behold.

Bet Your Bottom Dollar

Money’s tight right now and when school budgets get squeezed something has to give. And what gives tends to be non-core activities like music, dance and drama. It’s understandable but short-sighted. British performing arts are (still) world-class and contribute big bucks to our economy. Cutting off the supply at source is like serving up the golden goose for Christmas.

And so community-based youth theatre is as important as ever, providing the opportunity for kids to get stuck in – everyone welcome, no one excluded. It takes guts and bravado to step on a stage and strut your stuff in front of a bunch of strangers, especially for the first time. But the rewards – building confidence and learning new skills – can last a lifetime. And, once in a while, a star is born.

That’s why we love a bit of am dram and, if it involves people we know, we love it more. That’s as it was when we took our seats for Annie, performed by the Fisher Youth Theatre Group based at the rather cute Fisher Theatre in pretty little Bungay. Well done to fledgling starlets Eva and Jas; your elegant armography was good enough for Strictly Come Dancing. I was teary-eyed at the end.

He’s Behind You!

Norwich’s Maddermarket Theatre has an eclectic offering coming up in the next few months judging by the ‘what’s on’ brochure that dropped on our mat. Patrons can select from a pick-and-mix diet of comedy, drag, drama, tribute acts and music old and new – whatever takes their fancy. And what took our fancy? Well this, obviously.

Who can resist a filthy title like that?

Usually, ‘Dick Whittington and His Cat’ is a traditional festive children’s pantomime based on the legendary tale of guttersnipe Richard Whittington who went from rags to riches to become the Lord Mayor of London in the fourteenth century. We’re expecting this X-rated interpretation to bring a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘he’s behind you’!

Back to Oz

As dedicated friends of Dorothy, it’s been a long old slog along the yellow brick road back to Oz. Two years later than planned because of COVID, we finally arrived at the Emerald City (AKA Langley School) courtesy of the Funky Theatre Company. It was well worth the trip – a joyful gig packed to the rafters with energy and enthusiasm. Full marks to wardrobe for the incredible costumes. And to the set designers who gave us a stage full of richness. From the first scene to the last, the show was non-stop magic – from the young and not so young, the leads and the ensemble. It was fantastic to see so many familiar faces treading the boards and giving us their all. Who knew there was so much talent in this little corner of Norfolk?

A special shout out must go to Karen Peck, who stepped in at the last minute to play the Wicked Witch of the West. Way to go, my pretty!