Review of Jack and the Beanstalk at Cambridge Arts Theatre

Jack and The Beanstalk at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Sunday, January 13 2013. Review by ANGELA SINGER.

WHAT do you get when you let a Royal Shakespeare Company director, a West End choreographer and a musical director who trained at the Royal Academy of Music loose on a family pantomime?

You get the audience on its feet, dancing Gangnam style and yelling its heads off from beginning to end. This year ALL the cast is classically trained.

Yes, it’s a rip-roaring show, full of can belto and certainly can danco and certainly can make you laugh out loudo. This is bravissiomo, fortissimo, it is the classiest show for 20 years and beautifully costumed.

When Rolan Bell came on as Silly Billy – emerging from the stalls – and sang The Rhythm of Life –with such a powerful beat, I thought it was going to be his show. End of story, and I would have been happy with that.

But this is just the beginning. Then we see the RADA-trained Stephen Beckett as a beautifully enunciated Squire Nastee, educated at Eton and Oxford, don’t you know – reading How to Squeeze the Poor. Then the golden-voiced Emily Tierney as The Good Fairy (glitter on Twitter) started to really do her stuff – she was more than your usually standard fairy fluff – she has a tremendous vocals and Wicked wit (she wowed them in that too).

Usually, the funny man, this year Matt Crosby has been made a dame of aplomb. She is a him, ancient and modern. She is on Facebook.

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They were all far too good for anyone to upstage anyone. This is a masterclass of pantomime, an explosion of energy, a refinement of fun. It will be up there this year with the best in Britain. Done at this lofty level with a booming 20-foot giant who walks and bellows around the stage, pantomime is the highest form of theatrical art. What seems as easy as tripping over your tights is a matter of effortless precision.

Crosby (co-writer with director Michael Fentiman) has some great material and he knows exactly what to do with it. Other dames may be smut dressed as ham but he can produce an adroit mixture of pathos, bathos and glorious comic timing.

“When my waters broke, I called the doctor. He said where are you ringing from, I said from me knickers to me ankles.”

Instead of a thigh-slapping girl, Jack, our most principled boy is played by a lad – not tall, as he keeps pointing out - but there is enough of him for all practical purposes. Jonny Weldon is an athletic dancer with a great voice. You are not surprised he gets his Jill, played by Sophie Isaacs, who has a voice of distinction, real refined.

The comic duo Bodgit and Scarper are played by Dave Nellist and John Weldon as real characters rather than clich�s. You can see back-stories. (Yes, there are two J Weldons in this show. Don’t blame me – talk to Equity.)

There is also great use of the babes. The best thing to do with children is to turn them up-side-down in a trolley and put a custard pie in their face.

Congratulations to choreographer Damian Jackson, costumer, Sue Simmerling, musical director Jonathan Williams and director Michael Fentiman, who will be back at the Arts in February to direct Cambridge University’s Marlowe Society’s Comedy of Errors – and is due to direct the RSC’s Titus Andronicus.

All the best-loved panto traditions are here in this home-grown, lovingly crafted show but there are also new jokes and new lyrics to a delicious, chocolate box of favourite songs from Les Mis (I dreamed of cream) to Land of Hope and Glory and I am what I am (which no panto should ever be without – by law).

Actually, we didn’t have to dream of cream, it was right there in front of us. Magnificent.