Wednesday, 5 November 2014

PANTO!!! Greenwich Theatre's Jack and the Beanstalk

TEN years ago Andrew Pollard wrote his first panto for Greenwich Theatre. The result was a hit and the 47-year-old has been back every year since to pen the Crooms Hill theatre's annual Christmas show.
He has also starred as the Dame for the past eight seasons and last year directed the show as well.
It has been a winning combination that has now firmly established the Greenwich panto as one of the highlights of the theatre's repertoire and one of the best in London.
It is also one Andrew says he always looks forward to, so happily for all Greenwich panto fans, he's making a welcome return to South London and is back at the helm writing, directing and starring in the production which this year is Jack And The Beanstalk.
We chat as he makes last minute "tweaks" to the script which he promises will feature all the essential ingredients that befits any panto worth its salt - a heady mix of magic, mayhem, topical and geographical jokes and references, not to mention plenty of singing, dancing and general all round merriment.
Evidence of its popularity can be seen in ticket sales which are already up on last year. The show has also been extended by a week due to popular demand and Andrew and the team at Greenwich Theatre, headed up by artistic director James Haddrell, are understandably delighted.
"It's fantastic because it's such an endorsement of what we do," he says.
"But it does mean there is a bit of added extra pressure to make sure it all goes well and we deliver the goods so I'm busy making last minute adjustments."
The show, which kicks off on November 20, features Giant Bonecrunch, who is raising taxes, and his wicked Henchman who is making sure everyone pays up.
It means times are hard for Jack and his Fairy. Can an old cow, a bag of beans and a visit from a mysterious fairy really save the day?
The panto happens to be one of Andrew's favourites thanks to its "strong narrative".
"I think it's one of the strongest of the big five," he says. "It has a real adventure at its heart with someone climbing into the sky and a giant.
"It's just a classic story - it's David and Goliath, the little man fighting against the big scary giant, overcoming adversity - a real coming of age tale.
"It's a great adventure which ignites children's imaginations and I think that's why it's endured."
It does present its challenges though, not least how to portray the giant and a beanstalk that's strong enough to climb up.
"I've seen it a few times where you don't actually see the giant and I think that's wrong - it's a cheat not to have one," says Andrew.
"We did it here before about seven years ago and the props department built an 11ft giant for us. It was quite an incredible structure!
"At the time it was hugely expensive for them to do that so they kept in storage which is great because it means we can use him again - although he won't be exactly the same as last time."
So will there be a thrill and a fright factor for the younger members of the audience I wonder.
"There is a build up to the giant making his appearance and the kids do get scared a bit but it's how you do it that's important," says Andrew.
"We are always careful though so when the audience does meet him they realise that he isn't shouty or roary.
"Having said being scared like that, watching monsters on TV behind your fingers, it's all part of growing up. Kids want that and if you take it away it waters it all down.
"It's also empowering for the audience to boo the giant and they need to see Jack defeat him."
As well as a familiar giant, Andrew says some of the cast are returnees from past productions as are the musicians and backstage crew.
However there is sadly one notable absence this year. Paul Critoph, who has played opposite Andrew's Dame for the past eight years in various guises was unavailable this time because of commitments elsewhere.
"We have a small but great cast, but Paul is in the West End doing 39 Steps for a year which is great for him but we were both gutted," says Andrew.
"However, I don't want to give too much away but he will make his presence felt...!"
He also promises gags a plenty and says he has "upped the ante" with the Dame's costumes.
"I have got some cracking costumes this year," he laughs. "Each year she gets more ridiculous and outrageous in both her appearance and her character and this will be no exception.
"As soon as I get in the costume and put on the make up the excitement starts!
"We've also got some great jokes and fantastic musical numbers - including a revival of Bohemian Rhapsody that we did last year and which worked so well."
Despite the excitement he admits to a few nerves.
"I get more nervous every year," he says. "It's part of peoples' Christmases with many coming back every year. There is pressure to be fresh and original while at the same time being respectful of the traditions and making sure people have a great time.
"When you revisit a show there is also an expectation to be as good as before if not better.
"However, I don't know many places that work as hard as we do," he adds.
"What's great is that everyone pulls out all the stops to make these shows the best they can be.
"It's a great feeling. Some of the cast and crew have been with us since the beginning so it feels like one big family and I think people relate to that.
"It's all done with great heart and that's what I love about it."
And he says he's already thinking about next year and has a couple of ideas up his sleeve.
"Greenwich is where I've spent Christmas for the past nine years and I love it. It's the best place to be so I'll definitely be back!"

Jack And The Beanstalk is on at Greenwich Theatre, Crooms Hill from Thursday, November 20 until Sunday, January 11. Tickets cost £27 for adults and £13.50 for children. Visit or call the box office on 020 8858 7755.

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