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Stage Dragon Review: Jack And The Beanstalk At The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 9 Dec, 2022
Updated on: 9 Dec, 2022

By Ferenc Hepp

It was time to get festive and to get into the Christmas spirit by watching my first panto of the year in Guildford this week.

It’s one of the favourites, Jack and the Beanstalk, written by Jack Counsel and directed by the Arnaud’s CEO, Joanna Read.

Jack and the Beanstalk at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. Photo by Craig Fuller.

We had a group of excited scouts in front of us, so we were looking forward to latch onto their enthusiasm and joining in with the usual panto audience participation of “oh  yes you are, oh no you’re not” and “behind you” as well as singing along with lots of familiar modern hits and showtunes.

A lot of the set and general scenery looked familiar from previous years, but it is always good to be environmentally friendly nowadays and recycle, I guess.

Peter Gordon as Mary from the Dairy in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. Photo by Craig Fuller.

The first character we meet, as tradition dictates, is the good fairy, emerging from stage right, eventually belting out In The Country by Cliff Richard and the Shadows.

Devon-Elise Johnson’s energy as Fairy Foxglove is good to see, and her sense of humour complements the character well. The pace, the energy, the humour, the quality of the writing and the overall panto magic does decrease significantly after the opening scene.

Jack and the Beanstalk at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre with the ensemble from the Guildford School of Acting. Photo by Craig Fuller.

We are introduced to further characters during the first village scene, performed well by the ensemble made up of current or recently graduated students from Guildford School of Acting, Performance Preparation Academy and Laine Theatre Arts, who all look like they are having a great time and work well together.  However, the choreography this year by Verity Holt is not the most exciting and lacks ambition.

James Merry is back for his second year on the Arnaud stage as Simon. He makes a valiant attempt at delivering some jokes normally given to this type of character who has the most audience interaction but is not quite as ‘silly’ and over the top as he could be.

Devon-Elise Johnson’s energy as Fairy Foxglove in Jack and the Beanstalk.Photo by Craig Fuller.

Peter Gordon (better known as PG) is now a veteran of Guildford pantos and returns for his 16th consecutive appearance, this time as Mary from the Dairy.

I am a fan of PG as the dame each year and he does contribute significantly to the humour of the show. But we could do with more innuendo, puns and asides from him.

It is the direction which lets him down, and this goes for everyone.

Kit Hesketh-Harvey as Hendrix the Horrible in Jack and the Beanstalk. Photo by Craig Fuller.

Kit Hesketh-Harvey is back for his 10th year as the baddie, his name this year is Hendrix the Horrible, although we discover later that this may not be his real persona after all. His characterisation is similar to previous years, but it doesn’t feel as natural as before.

The script is to blame here again. His outfit is also rather questionable this year with a blue wig that looks very out of place.

Ernest Stroud as Jack and Maya Elliott as Jill are both recent graduates and give competent performances but do need further panto experience to make those characters fully formed.

Highlights include Walking On Sunshine as the opening number of Act 2 and the traditional 12 Days of Christmas scene, but the attempt to modernise and change some of the traditional aspects of panto does not work and it needs a lot of work through the run to reintroduce the magic which it currently lacks.

This will hopefully change the faces of the children who looked somewhat bored unfortunately during the performance we attended.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs until Sunday, January 8. You can book tickets are online here or call the box office on 01483 440000.

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Responses to Stage Dragon Review: Jack And The Beanstalk At The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

  1. John Strugnell Reply

    December 9, 2022 at 11:54 am

    Ferenc Hepp has written a supercritical review and I suspect he has never ever taken part in a panto in his life. It’s a great shame this critique has been published. Guildford needs more positive examples of spreading the good news. Baa hoo Ferenc Hepp!

    Editor’s response: Ferenc Hepp has been reviewing drama productions for The Guildford Dragon NEWS since 2015. He has shown extensive knowledge of all aspects of theatre in that time and has given a whole range of star awards. He reports with honesty and integrity and he actually has performed in pantomimes.

    Of course, all reviews are necessarily based on the critic’s personal view. Other opinions of this production will be welcomed and published.

  2. Fumiko Ishiguro Reply

    December 10, 2022 at 10:17 am

    This is only one person’s view.

    Guildford panto has always been exceptionally good and I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I thought the old fashioned slapstick and innuendos had been done away with, streamlining it to a modern audience. It was almost a happy, upbeat musical with many songs and dance, including my favourite, Van Morrison’s Moondance which was superb.

    Peter Gordon and Kit Harvey as villain, both a regular at Guildford pantos, were very good. Set and costume, with the voice of Steve Backshall as the giant were wonderful. I thought it was a fantastic panto and told friends.

    I do not agree with this review. I could only think the person has lost his sense of fun.

  3. Toby Scott Reply

    December 11, 2022 at 2:47 pm

    I fear that Ferenc Hepp has nailed it.

  4. Luke Behyndew Reply

    December 23, 2022 at 5:03 pm

    Thanks to Ferenc Hepp for a reasonably honest review. Personally, I would have given it only two stars.

    It was a real disappointment this year and at times I felt like I was watching a cheesy glee-style school panto with Peter Gordon carrying it. It felt a bit sterile, the jokes were badly written and, in places, I could not tell if it was meant to mean anything or not.

    On another note, innuendo and slapstick are the heart and soul of a pantomime. If people who form a “modern audience” find them offensive and want to get rid of them then it may as well be rebranded as a “Christmas play”.

  5. Bjorn Roberts Reply

    December 26, 2022 at 11:01 pm

    I tried to like it, and there were good moments, but over all this one felt a little earnest and lacklustre, especially in comparison with some superb pantos (for young and old) staged here in previous years.

    • S Gilby Reply

      January 3, 2023 at 7:15 pm

      The panto this year was a song and dance show, but barely a pantomime. Do children need to be lectured on climate change and politics in a pantomime? Surely not. I was so disappointed.

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