Call me an idiot, gentle reader – no, really, please do – but it never occurred to me that Evolution Pantomimes’ Jack and the Beanstalk at the Lyceum Theatre Sheffield, written by Paul Hendy, would be identical (almost) to Jack and the Beanstalk at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, written by Paul Hendy. An intelligent person would have joined the dots, but, somehow, I didn’t. As a result I didn’t enjoy this year’s Sheffield panto – which is an annual event for us – as much as I normally do. But only because I’d seen most of it before. The same set, the same costumes, the same songs, the same jokes. Even the same bits that you thought were where the cast had made a bit of a mistake – not a bit of it, those little errors are scripted and practised to within an inch of their lives; discovering which, was a fascinating lesson in itself. So really I should just point you towards my review of the Northampton panto – click the link above – and that ought to be sufficient.
It’s not, of course. A different cast, and a different emphasis, make for a (slightly) different show. The Sheffield panto is blessed with the presence of Damian Williams as the Dame – the man who put the dame in Damian, in fact (or should that be the other way round) – returning for his 15th year as the star of the show, and he is just insanely funny. Because he is a big chap, his outlandish costumes and huge persona fill the stage more than ought to be decently possible. He owned the Elton John sequence brilliantly, and was also particularly fab in the weather-making machine, revoltingly rubbing his tummy up against the glass door. And he is the main reason we all keep coming back. Damian is Christmas!
Our Fairy Sugarsnap is Wendi Peters, in her third appearance at the Sheffield panto in six years, so she’s becoming almost as much of a recidivist as Mr Williams. She’s bright, confident and a complete natural in the world of pantomime, and does a great job. One of the few differences between this and the Northampton panto is the presence of Maxwell Thorpe as an additional character, Charlie Trot. Sheffield’s answer to Alfie Boe, he rose to stardom from busking in the streets to his appearance earlier this year on Britain’s Got Talent. Alas, I hadn’t heard of him before, and he does indeed have a terrific voice which is put to good use, especially in the singalong sequence Delilah, a pleasing paean to the Pantomime Cow. However, with the greatest respect, Mr Thorpe’s acting skills need developing so that he can hold his own amongst a strong cast, and not look out of place. Still, he is a local lad and the crowd loved him. The other main difference with this panto, by the way, is having two giants. Keeping it in the family – quite a nice trick.
One of the main problems of seeing the same production twice but with two completely different casts, is that it is virtually impossible not to compare individual performers, invidious though that may be. That said… I found Marc Pickering’s performance as the baddie, Luke Backinanger, forced and trying too hard in comparison with the effortless evil of Richard David-Caine in Northampton; although he is excellent in the boyband sequence at the end of the show, which generally worked much better in Sheffield. And, continuing the comparison, Waffle the Wonder Dog beats Izzy the Dog paws down.
Apart from that, there is still a great deal to enjoy in a tremendous show. All the classic trademark elements are there, James Harrison’s band is superb, the song selection is great, the ecological and redemption messages of the text work extremely well, and the Drone of Love continues to bring new technology to Dame Trot’s own version of Bumble. Oh, and how could I forget the giant pea? Absolutely brilliant.
An excellent panto, as always – I just wish I hadn’t already seen it elsewhere! That’s definitely a lesson for me to learn next year.
Production photos by Pamela Raith