BASE-Jack and The Beanstalk-review

Windy Bottom is the place to be this half term if you want to lose yourself in some great slapstick comedy and musical numbers that get you clapping, toe-tapping and singing your heart out – plus a few fart jokes and the odd mention of Donald Trump.

You’ll find it all on the stage of the Brewhouse Arts Centre, which Burton Amateur Stage Entertainers (BASE) have turned into the colourful village home of Dame Dotty Dimple and her sons Jack and Simple Simon.

This barnstorming production of Jack and The Beanstalk includes all the elements you’d expect from a professional, celebrity-studded pantomime – yet here it is, on our doorstep, with tickets half the price you’d pay in some nearby cities.

Keyboard player Alex Priestley kicked off proceedings with a short medley of tunes we’d hear later in the show. Then, after some verbal sparring in verse from wicked fairy Piccalilli (June Austin) and her goody goody counterpart Fairy Sugardust (Pam Holburn), we were treated to an exuberant Uptown Funk by a stage full of beautifully-costumed chorus members. It was all some of us could do to stay in our seats and not rush the stage to join in. The cast were having a blast and so were the audience – and we were barely 10 minutes into the show!

As in all good pantos there were topical references and name checks for local places. Donald Trump narrowly escaped being appointed as the giant’s henchman in favour of Rancid the Ratcatcher, portrayed by Peter Bourne with a face as dirty as his dark soul.

Chris Knight was irrepressible as Dame Dotty Dimple and one of many first half highlights was his cleverly choreographed slapstick DIY decorating sketch with Simple Simon (Jodie Swann) which they made look deceptively simple. It was hilarious and smoothly executed with brilliant timing.

Principal Boy Jack (Callie Burley) and Princess Primrose (Ellie Austin) had the Frozen fans in the audience swaying along when they duetted to Love is An Open Door from the Disney film favourite.

There was professional polish aplenty in a scene featuring luminous, glow-in-the-dark insects and flowers dancing apparently in mid-air across the darkened stage. Little audience members were bewitched and bemused into silence.

Just before the interval an impressive beanstalk materialised at the back of the stage leaving us anticipating some giant fun in Act Two. BASE did not disappoint. Jack climbed the beanstalk, followed by all the aforementioned principals, who also included henpecked King Hubert (Ken Dawson), stylish Queen Hyacinth (Sharon Hughes) as well as comedy duo Snatchet and Scarper (Gemma East and Sarah Goodall).

Yes, there WAS a real giant – and he was magnificent, with a voice of towering fury provided by Craig Poxon.

This production looked as if no expense had been spared on costumes, props and some well-placed special effects.

Tribute must also be paid to Lauren Downs and Lesley Hill, who didn’t put a hoof wrong as Buttermilk the cow, and Chloe Horton as the Harp.

The audience lapped up every second and the young and young-at-heart added to the entertainment of the night with their joyful reactions. Special mention goes to several rows of high-spirited Brownies. Their Brown Owl also demonstrated some nifty footwork of her own when Simple Simon expertly-handled the obligatory ‘getting people on stage for a song and dance’ section.

As the clock raced round towards 10pm, the entire cast burst back on to the stage for a sparkling finale dance number, We’re All In This Together from the much-loved High School Musical.

Opening night was a triumph for Director/Producer duo Lynda Freeman and Martin Goodall. Choreography was spot-on thanks to Sam Uche and Ellis Burley and the hard-working cast who brought their vision to life.

The backstage crew must have been working exceptionally hard on the many set changes so credit must also go to them:  Simon Collins, Joe Cowell, Alex Goodall, Martin Goodall, Karl Hollingworth and Keiran Swann.

Lighting and sound was delivered by Robert Bond and the Brewhouse’s own Matt Bancroft.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs until Saturday February 25 at 7.30pm nightly, except Wednesday night’s performance, which starts at 6.30pm. There is also a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm. Ring the Brewhouse box office on 01283-508100 to check on ticket availability.

Elaine Pritchard

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