PRINCIPAL boys are becoming an endangered species in professional pantomime – apparently young audiences brought up on boy bands and “reality” television shows find it hard to accept the idea of a girl dressed as a boy.
But the tradition lives on in amateur panto, and at Shaftesbury this year, director Rosie King has not one but two Jacks (and two Princesses) giving more opportunities for some of the arts centre’s talented young performers.
Beth Grey and Anne-Louise Richards alternate the hero’s role, with Eleanor Wetherilt and Lauren Hayes taking turns as Princess Melanie.
Rising star Philip White, who has already impressed in several Shaftesbury shows and was in She Stoops to Conquer at Bath Theatre Royal last summer, plays Silly Billy, working his socks off on the audience participation song. In March this year he will make his debut as director with 100, a one-act play in the Dorset Drama League Festival.
New faces in the cast of Jack and the Beanstalk include Scott Henstridge as Fleshcreep, complete with red-tipped,punk-spiked hair which adds about 10 inches to his height, Helen and Ella Cluett as Daisy the Cow, and Vee Cooper, a back-stage stalwart, making her stage debut as the unfortunate Mrs Blunderbore.
The strong cast includes Sam Skey as Giant Blunderbore, Jerome Swan as the weak-kneed King Satupon, Charles Dillon (who was so impressive in Sweeney Todd) as the town crier Clarence Clanger, Beth Stewart as the Vegetable Fairy and David Luxton as Dame Trott.
One of playwright John Morley’s innovations is a duo of comic policemen, Sergeant Spick and Corporal Span, played with energy and humour by Jade Hall and Anthony Atwood.
Shaftesbury’s pantos are always a real team effort, and this year’s back-stage crew have really pulled out all the stops to create some fabulous costumes, great sets, beautiful back-cloths and spectacular sound and lighting effects.
Musical director David Grierson is a brilliant and versatile pianist, keeping the action skipping along and choreographers Barbara Arnold and Sophie Lester have created some lively and imaginative dance and movement.
The audience loves the little dragon – who unfortunately is not named in the programme. It’s an unorthodox addition to the usual Jack and the Beanstalk cast, but there’s always room for such a charming creature, and it’s an excuse for a favourite song too!
Jack and the Beanstalk continues at Shaftesbury Arts Centre until 6th February.
FOOTNOTE: Ella Cluett, who is one half of Daisy the Cow, is also the little dragon.