Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Jack and the Beanstalk - Southwark Playhouse

A PANTO with a twist is how acclaimed playwright and director Toby Hulse describes his latest Christmas extravaganza.The show, Jack and the Beanstalk, which is staged by theatre company Goat and Monkey and penned by Toby, has just opened at the Southwark Playhouse. But if you think it's traditional panto fare, he advises you to think again.
"It's got everything you would expect of course when it comes to a traditional pantomime with giants, a beanstalk and all the usual songs and silliness," he chuckles. "But it's got an extra layer and there are a few twists, thrills and spills I guarantee you won't expect."
Some of these are closely guarded secrets - he doesn't want to spoil anything but think Mexican dancing beans, milk squirting cows and a play within a play.
"It is a family show, a lot of fun and the audience is very much part of the action and help create the show," he says. "So we expect everyone to be up for a good time and get involved."
What he will say is the premis is that of a group of actors who are trying to get a panto together but they are late doing so.
An inspector, hidden within the audience, is due to visit and so the group is in the process of trying to tidy up and put on the show - and they get the audience to help them.
"We as a society are constantly being inspected and assessed so it's a theme which is current and topical," says Toby.
"I also enjoy the show within a show idea as it allows the actors to comment on what's going on. It allows for lots of extra jokes and explains the plot in many different ways."
Toby is no stranger to writing festive shows, having penned the acclaimed production of Wind In The Willows at Wimbledon's Polka Theatre last year.
However, he says this year's has been particularly exciting as the Southwark Playhouse has moved to its new bigger home in Newington Causeway from under the London Bridge railway arches.
"It's a much easier space to work in and has a good sized auditorium," he says.
"When I sat down with the producers and talked about how we could involve the audience we looked at the geography of the building and discovered secret routes in to the auditorium which was fantastic. So it's been a particular joy to do."
But while he is no Christmas show novice he admits the pressure is always on to deliver the goods.
"I think there is always pressure particularly at Christmas, to put something on stage that you can't get anywhere else. We can't get this sort of entertainment from watching a DVD or watching TV.
"This is something a family can do all together - and it doesn't exist without the audience shouting back!
"This one begins the moment you enter the theatre and you are very much part of the show. It continues through the interval and afterwards - it's a proper evening out.
"It is also a real privilege to write a show like this because you are aware it could be a child's first experience of theatre.
"We all tell each other stories by reading books or talking about what we did during the day or at school. Telling stories is how we keep communities together and so it's a privilege to share a story like this. It's a very special thing."

Jack and the Beanstalk is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway until January 11. tickets from £16. Call the box office on 020 7407 0234  

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