It’s no secret that I love a Rock ‘n’ Roll pantomime, in fact it was the first incarnation of this show written by Pete Rowe at Theatr Clwyd twenty one years ago that made me want to work in theatre. However, due to all things Covid and no social distanced seating I didn’t think I’d be getting to see a panto this year. But just when I thought “Oh no I won’t” The New Wolsey Theatre said “Oh yes you will!”
Because, although audiences have been allowed back in theatres, The New Wolsey have continued to livestream their shows, showing a real commitment to making theatre as accessible as possible and an understanding that not everyone can watch a show in an auditorium, particularly in the current climate. So even if you’re 1 mile from the theatre, 250 miles like me or even in another country entirely you can still have the opportunity to see a live show.
And what’s great about this run of Jack and the Beanstalk is that live means live. Each performance is captured on camera and broadcast to you as it happens, meaning you get all the uniqueness, adlibs, mishaps (and there were a few #WigGate) and audience reaction that are such a part of the panto experience too. You’re not getting a sanitised and prerecorded version. Simply choose which date you wish to view the show and tune in at the right time and get ready to shout or sign “he’s behind you” as much as you want.
What’s more, the livestreams are further accessible with audio described, BSL interpretation and captioned streams available. Simply check the symbols on the booking page to see when they are available (as shown below) and click which stream you want when you access the link to view the show.
For anyone that prefers a relaxed performance, that will also be livestreamed on 5th January at 11am.
Now, on with the show. Jack and the Beanstalk directed by Kate Golledge is the perfect festive treat for all ages with something for everyone, even if you’re not the biggest fan of traditional Panto. From music, jaw dropping musicianship, dancing (with choreography by Darragh O’Leary,) romance, drama, action, prop gags (I love a good prop gag,) slapstick, plenty of innuendo, a literal giant puppet, a Covid adapted chase through the audience and even a mankini thrown in. It’s a real celebration of live arts with an 8 strong cast of actor musicians clearly thoroughly enjoying being back on stage doing what they love. And the audience, both in person and digital, sure are glad to have them back.
This classic fairytale is enhanced with a toe tapping, boogie in your seat soundtrack of classic rock ‘n’ roll songs and some more recent additions under the musical direction of Rebekah Hughes, which really drives the plot along and all sung and played live by the actor musicians. I mean, when Dame Dolly Durden casts Jack out after selling their only cow in exchange for magic beans what other song could possibly be burst into than “Hit The Road Jack.” Other stand outs include James Haggie as Billy’s heart wrenching version of Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted,” Steve Simmonds as Dame Dolly and of course Bessie the cow’s version of Sandie Shaw’s “Always Something There To Remind Me” and Natasha Magigi (Fairy Aubergine) and Neil Urquhart’s (Jack) singing Pilot’s “Magic.”
Although I did miss some of the original songs, I’ll admit it was nice to still have those memories but also make new ones and experience some brilliant performances such as Nicola Bryan as Fleshcreep’s wickedly powerful rendition of Duffy’s “Rain On Your Parade.”
And a special mention has to go to Joe Butcher for filling the gigantic feet of Giant Blunderbore.
Even though the show is performed to a live audience that doesn’t mean that the livestreaming audience are an afterthought. Dame Dolly and Fairy Aubergine do an excellent job in including the livestream audience and not making them feel any less valid for not being there in person.
The production team have kept many of the digital elements they incorporated when they couldn’t play to live audiences or only to a reduced capacity. Such as the integration of video footage where some scenes were recorded in locations around Ipswich and also against a green screen and transformed into Panto magic by video designers Jake Berniov and Peter Hazelwood. You can find out more about this process by watching this video. The footage is played on screen in the auditorium and for live streamers play just like a tv programme or film. They also work well in covering scene and costume changes and blend in well with Neil Irish’s set design.
My only gripe was that sometimes we experienced some buffering and freezing but that was more likely our internet connection. And we had a problem where all of a sudden only the audio was coming through the tv but we managed to fix it during the interval. Again our problem. There is plenty of advice on how to stream the show and what to do in preparation can be viewed on this video which includes BSL interpretation. And as soon as you are sent the link for the show you have access to a holding page so that you can check it in advance of the show and not have to scramble to make it work as the show begins.
But I was so happy to get to experience Panto this year in a way that felt safe and best for me and it was a particular joy that it was this show. To even get the live experience after so long without live theatre for myself and many others is particularly significant. A big shout-out to everyone for making this show happen and for spreading theatre magic and access joy near and far. I cannot commend the team at The New Wolsey for their level of effort and their commitment to making the arts as accessible as possible. The New Wolsey is part of Ramps On The Moon a collaborative network of 6 partner theatres committed to making real change in the industry for Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people. I particularly love how they credit their access facilitators, Audio Describer Michael Achtman, BSL Interpreter Caroline Smith and Caption and AD Operator Alex Noble and that their Agent for Change Jamie Beddard name appears alongside Artistic Director Peter Rowe’s under Creative.
I thoroughly recommend the show to anyone who can’t, for whatever reason, attend the theatre at the moment or of course if you can be there in person. The show is on today (24th December at 11.30am) then from Monday 27th December until January 8th.
You can buy livestream tickets at https://www.wolseytheatre.co.uk/shows/jack-the-beanstalk-livestream/ Again check the symbols to see what access options are available that day.
Or auditorium tickets at https://www.wolseytheatre.co.uk/shows/jack-the-beanstalk-2/
From the links above also you can also access an Audio Described flyer, BSL interpreted flyer, Audio Described touch tour and Audio Described trailer.