Denton Variety Club – 2020
"Jack and the Beanstalk"
Performed of the 20th, 21st and 22nd February.
This year saw a return to a more traditional "panto" format though, as mentioned in the Review, the writers - Denise and Peter Grant -
managed to combine themes from several panto stories.
The programme claimed that this was the Club's 38th annual production, or was it the 39th?
Now if you thought you already knew the story of Jack and the Beanstalk think again, because DVC’s specially written version by Denise and Peter Grant would have you wondering how elements of other favourite Children’s Stories managed to spill over into the show, so ably presented on the night I saw it, 21st February, and which entertained us so well with many of the traditional ingredients of a British panto.
Echoes of characters who feature so strongly in “Cinderella”, a wicked stepmother and her two men-hungry daughters, replaced the usual world-weary and poverty-stricken but sympathetic mother of Jack, forced to sell her one remaining asset, the cow, Daisy, beloved by Jack but traded nevertheless for simply a bag of beans and, surprise, surprise (!), the biggest ruby ever see this side of the Crown Jewels. This jewel, we eventually learn, has restorative powers for a previously mistreated princess and her now contrite sister, bringing forgiveness and love once more to a previously envious relationship.
For me to try to describe to you the rest of the intricacies of the storyline would only confuse you more, but suffice it to say that much fun was had on the way as Jack journeyed up a magic beanstalk, aided by a caterpillar and a ladybird (why does “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” come to mind ?). These friendly companions, partaking of the drug-like effects of bean leaves, finally find themselves invited to supper at the table of the giant who lives in the sky. At this point we met with giant prop hands, which were later cleverly manipulated, and a jacuzzi-style cooking pot keeping our heroes very very warm. Here, I must confess, my mind draws a blank on how our heroes actually escaped being served up as Hungarian goulash, but I do remember that in the search for the whereabouts of Jack and his beloved Daisy other characters, following clues and ‘evidence’ (sometimes of dubious and smelly nature) found themselves close to danger at the hands of the hungry giant, but eventually all escaped, the beanstalk stairway was hewn down, and kindness and morality finally triumphed.
The show was ably directed by Chris Whipps, his first direction I think, and assisted by Phill G. E. Will – a pseudonym obviously for that well-known local director Lilli G. Whelp.
The script allowed a good crack of the whip to some of DVH’s long-standing performers, giving them a good share of the comedy and the puns which littered the dialogue, offering us, the audience, to send back vocally so many well-deserved ‘groans’. There was, too, a general improvement in the company's delivery of lines and a tightening of the dialogue which helped the production to roll along at a good pace, enabling some of us to get the children home before too late and the rest of us some comfortable time in the bar afterwards.
As usual, I have to praise the wealth of colour on the small Village Hall stage provided by the imaginative costumes from all eras, by the clever props and sets, and by the clarity of the lighting. Music, so necessary in panto was well provided by the trio of Simon Winter on keyboard, Sue Altarelli on a variety of wind and percussive instruments, and Ken Ashton on guitar. All the cast threw themselves energetically into the singing, and we even got to add our own voices for “Daisy”.
A particularly welcome part of this year's show was the inclusion of some of the Rising Stars – William, Charlotte, Poppy, Harry, Flossie, Sophia, Annabel, and Rosie – some of them responsible for giving life to Daisy and some of them performing a 'beanstalk ballet'. I feel they all enjoyed their contributions as much as we did.
If I might offer one piece of constructive criticism it would be that it is a mistake on the Village Hall stage to construct any details of arms and body movements (except that of feet of course) in the area from stage level to 2 feet above. The same goes for important pieces of business or plot. Too many audience heads and bodies prevent proper viewing for anybody sitting in rows behind the front two, and it is a pity to let good work go to waste.
Several years ago I remember moments of pure magic being performed on our small village stage when ultra-violet light was used and performers in their black clothes were able to manipulate and dance with 'growing' and 'flying' objects to great effect. Could that safely be considered again at some future time I wonder.
The names of all those responsible for this year's worthy entertainment can be found in the programme published alongside this review. To you all I say “Well done, and heartfelt THANKS”.
These pictures have been kindly provided by our "hatch" photographer, Barbara Spaul.