Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

dame and daisy

Daisy the cow with Paul Wescott as Dame Buttercup

Jack and the Beanstalk

Sutton Arts Theatre

*****Billy, dame buttercup and Jack

WHAT a Christmas cracker! If Carling did panto this would be one of theirs, probably the best amateur panto I have yet seen, and I have seen a lot.

Oh no you haven’t!, Oh yes I have!, Oh no you haven’t!, Oh yes I have! . . . (all right, we get the idea, now get on with it.).

Directors Emily Armstrong and Dexter Whitehead have produced a show that is slick, fast paced, fun - even managing some new(ish) jokes - and one that would not look out of place on the professional stage – it is that good. A first class, traditional panto.

Happy families. Dame Buttercup (Paul Wescott) with offspring Silly Billy (James Hutt) and and Jack  (Phoebe Hooper

Dancing is often an Achilles heel of amateur panto, but here Anna Forster, who was choreographer for Sutton Arts excellent West Side Story and The Wedding Singer, works her magic once again along with Emma Green from the Julie Johnson School of Dancing.

The tone for the whole panto is set by the opening big number with more than 20 cast on the small stage which says loud and clear this is a show that means business. It might be panto but it has been given the same production values as a full grown musical.

Sutton Arts are attracting and keeping many of the young cast members of their now regular big summer musicals – the next is Hello Dolly - returning in thigh slapping panto action. For example Chris Commander, who played George in The Wedding Singer, has the difficult role of Crowfoot, Blunderbore the giant’s evil underling. Difficult in that he is first on stage, needing to quieten kids, set the scene with evil delight and hold the audience’s attention which he does sneeringly well – even if the kids djack and Beanstalkid find him more funny than scary.

Then any panto needs a good dame and Paul Wescott, who was Charlie in the recent One Man, Two Guvnors, does the business, complete with heaving bosom, corny jokes and, not always scripted, asides. A lovely performance.

The bane of her/his life is son Silly Billy played by James Hutt, who incidentally played the same role in a different version of the panto in 2009,  a year when director Emily appeared as a thigh slapping Jack. Hutt is an engaging, cheery chap who created an immediate rapport with the audience, working them well from start to end.

Phoebe Hooper as Jack and the giant beanstalk

Then there is his/her other son Jack, a traditional principal boy – a role sadly being usurped by men in many a modern panto – played by Phoebe Hooper, who has an impressive CV in West Midland theatre and it shows in a very mature and confident performance with a fine alto voice.

Another regular is Phebe Jackson, who am yoom Maisie Moo, love interest for Silly Billy, with a nice line in Brummie accents. She was a delightful Maria in West Side Story, played Aladdin last Christmas and Holly in The Wedding Singer and now shows a glorious bent for comedy in yet another impressive performance.

While Billy and Maisie’s romance takes their joint IQs soaring into double digits, love for Jack is a bit more up market, the mayor’s daughter Lily Rose played by Annie-mae McGee who, incidentally, has just won through auditions for a place at Emil Dale Performing Arts Academy in Hitchen. Her duets with Jack are a delight.

She brings a calm assurance to the role, which is more than can be said of her mother Mayoress Hyacinth, played by Suzy Donnelly.

Sutton Arts regular Suzy gives us a lovely line in a harridan of a woman who sees pretty well everyone and everything as being well beneath her, particularly her henpecked husband Herbert, the mayor, played with suitable timidity by the experienced Mark Nattrass.

And you can’t have Jack and the Beanstalk without a cow, so enter Daisy, and a very expensive and excellent looking costume worn by Kane Blundell and Luca Hillier – and watch out for when she flies over the audience in Act II! Indeed costumes all round were colourful, looked good and added to the feel of the show.

There are some standout performances among the support cast with Ian Cornock as King Harold and Gemma Smyth, who played Roscoe in One Man Two Guvnors and Julia in The Wedding Singer, as Fairy Sweetpea. Her explosive entrances, with Millie Farrelly's timing spot on in charge of the blue touchpaper, must have used up Sutton Arts’ entire pyrotechnic budget for the year.fairy sweetpea

Meanwhile Robert Newton, Sammy from The Wedding Singer, takes stupidity to new heights, or should that be lows, as Peter Piper along with his equally stupid sidekick Willie Whistle played by Giles Whorton. The fun pair make Maisie and Billy look pure genius.

And adding a bit of sneer are the nasty sisters Parma and Violet (remember the sweets that tasted of old grannies on a night out?) roles shared by Sophie Johnson and Patsy Broom and Kate Lowe and Kira Mack.

Gemma Smyth as Fairy Sweetpea

The excellent ensemble are a lively bunch, full of infectious enthusiasm and, with some cast members also pupils at the school of dancing, they turn in consistently excellent song and dance performances in the big numbers with music arranged by musical directors Jon Clarke and Tom Brookes.

Staging was simple, designed for speed and quick scene changes, which meant no break in the action and clever use of back projection, designed by Stephen Curran and Chris Comander, gave us the giant’s castle, a scene helped by a supersize chair.

And, for a theatre with no flying loft, just a ceiling, they made a good fist of the beans growing into the giant beanstalk considering the ceiling is only a few inches above the sightline.

David Ashton’s lighting gave a few extras, such as projected snow flakes, to keep kids interested while follow spots helped to concentrate the action.

As a panto there is enough to keep adults amused and entertained and kids, including my grandson, just loved it. It might not be full of TV stars or special effects but so what, it is everything you need for a cracking festive family treat. To 17-12-16

Roger Clarke


Website Box office: (Evenings) 0121 355 5355 Online booking

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