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.

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.

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!

Eyes to the Right

Another year passes, another joint birthday to mark. These days we prefer doing rather than giving so this year we decided to do a bit more of London by taking in a big wheel, a few sharks and a West End show. First up was the London Eye, the giant Ferris wheel on London’s South Bank and the most popular paid tourist attraction in the land. I’ve ridden the Eye a couple of times before but, remarkably, this was Liam’s first ever flight. He loved it and I’d forgotten just how good it is. Our weather is predictably unpredictable and it was a bit overcast when we joined the international queue. But as our pod slowly glided above the city skyline, the clouds parted giving us an almost picture-perfect panorama. It’s not called the London Eye for nothing.

The Eye’s neighbour is old County Hall, formerly the seat of London’s government but now home to a couple of hotels and a mishmash of attractions, one of which is Sea Life at the London Aquarium. The exhibition occupies much of the basement. The shelves of dusty old archives have been replaced by bubbling tanks of sea creatures swimming about to amuse and amaze the thousands of curious gawpers who pass by each day. It was another first for Liam. And as for the platoons of over-excited school kids who overwhelmed us, I have no words.

Quite rightly, flash photography is forbidden so photo opportunities were limited but we did what we could. There really were sharks – honest.

Lastly, we took our seats for ‘Dear Evan Hansen’, a song and dance show for the digital age. We slipped in just before it reached the end of its West End run. With a theme of teenage angst and anger, it’s very of the moment. While the set and staging were slick and inventive, we thought the big songs were well beyond the cast, particularly ‘Evan’ himself, which was disappointing. Still, the largely youthful crowd lapped it up and gave an enthusiastic standing ovation at the end, so what do we know? And anything that gets young bums on seats gets my vote. At least the bar was empty during the interval.

Waitress

Take Steel Magnolias, add a dash of Thelma and Louise, a big dollop of Burl Ives in a white linen suit, sprinkle with slapstick, mix with some catchy toons, then serve. This is Waitress, an uplifting and witty musical that tells the story of Jenna, who waits tables, bakes pies and dreams of a getting out of small town USA and away from her good for nothing husband. If Jenna were from small town UK, she’d win The Great British Bake Off and get her own Saturday morning show on TV. Made from the finest ingredients, Waitress is simply delicious.