By Adam Glennon
On reflection, going to the pantomime to watch Jack and the Beanstalk on Boxing Day, the day after consuming a year’s supply of Ferrero Rocher, was probably not the best idea.
“You’re going to love it,” said The Wife.
“Oh no I won’t.”
“Oh yes you will!”
“Oh no I won’t!”
I was right. It was stressful. Taking small children to any enclosed space where other humans gather sends a cold shiver down my spine. My brain replays HD video highlights from the last time, every time, when I have attempted to manage their behaviour without resorting to stern words or pretending they’re not mine. At the Plaza, on Boxing Day, our two-year-old, Ove, was on glorious form. He took it upon himself to act out his own performance – one filled with uncontrollable bouts of screaming and contortionism. Each attempt to keep him seated saw every muscle in his little body completely relax and he would flop through your grasp and head under the seats towards the exit.
I’m happy to report our four-year-old, Arlo, was enthralled; no bother at all. Unlike the other child. The Wife was on Ove duties. By the half-way point it was obvious we weren’t going to make it through the second act in one piece. I noticed some empty seats at the back of the theatre where the buggies were stored and thankfully, the steward allowed us to move. This was an absolute life saver. I need to thank the Plaza volunteer for not finding an excuse to say no. Instead he asked a senior member of staff, they took one look at my watery eyes and quivering lip and allowed us to move. Thank you.
The show itself was lots of fun. Pantomime is not my go-to theatrical form of entertainment, but I appreciate the appeal. It’s more relaxed than a regular theatre experience and the Plaza volunteers make you feel welcome from the get-go. The seating at the venue is a little snug so I recommend leaving it as close to the opening of the show as possible before taking your seat. Squashed knees I can live with, but the battery-powered spinning toys they sell create an on-going battle between parents and children. I would prefer to support the Plaza by purchasing a keepsake related to the show rather than a spinning bright light capable of knocking my front teeth out.
Although Jack and the Beanstalk was fun, festive and energised, the Boxing Day Blues seemed to have affected most of the crowd. For a theatrical genre that requires, and greatly benefits from audience participation my heart went out to the performers. To say the mood was a little flat would be like saying Ted Robbins is not very comfortable in a brightly coloured frock (unfortunately, Ted was unwell and so Richard Chandler stepped in on the night and seemed equally at ease in the role of Dame Trott).
It was a tough slog for the performers. Jokes, musical numbers, choreographed routines which might have been enthusiastically applauded on other nights, were met with mild slapping sounds and grunts of interest. Imagine, you’ve been steadily grazing on pickles, nuts and tasty savoury things dipped in booze all day. You’ve unwrapped and destroyed copious amounts of new and exciting chocolates. You’ve had your Christmas dinner, probably second helpings and pudding. Maybe some cheese and crackers as well.
Then someone says, “do you want a mince pie?”
No. You didn’t when you were peckish and tipsy from Bucks Fizz so why would you want one now? You don’t. But the inevitable happens; You turn your bloated head ever so slightly to the side and flick an acknowledgment of interest with your forehead while grunting. That’s what the audience response was like. Even Bradley Thompson, playing Simple Simon, who had the best lines and freedom to improvise, had to dig deep to drag a response from the lacklustre crowd. I’m not one for public displays of enthusiasm but I felt obliged to raise my game and applaud, jeer, and boooooo, in order to contribute to the show. Whereas in truth, I would usually nod and clap in the right places like a good Dad. But not this night. I was right up there with The Wife. “He’s behind you, oh no he’s not”, booing the bad guy, clapping, laughing loudly, all of it. I honestly didn’t think I had it in me.
I recommend Jack and the Beanstalk for families with age appropriate children, and if you want to get the best out of the experience make sure you go with a willingness to get involved – the performers will feed off that energy and it’ll enhance your enjoyment.
There is still time to put the Boxing Day Blues behind you and whip up some New Year’s pantomime enthusiasm. Jack and the Beanstalk runs until 5 January at Stockport Plaza, with shows at 2.30pm every day except New Year’s Day, and an additional evening performance on Saturday.