Saturday, 22 December 2007

FEATURE: Catching Up with Jack, Cin, and Spam

(A catch up post. Things should be closer to normal from here on out.)

Panto season is in full swing, and those with some extra cash to blow and some older children may find themselves seeking out this year’s “posh” panto offerings. The Barbican’s offering, Jack and the Beanstalk, certainly has some nice visuals, but the script by Jonathan Harvey is bland - the jokes fall flat, the double entendre cruder than necessary (oh his majesticles...). Urgency and excitement are missing across the story or Giles Havergal’s annoying character direction - even the slosh scene is dull, but at least Stiles and Drewe have given us some nice songs. Helen Baker is passable as Jack, and Andy Gray tries his best to win the audience over as very Scottish Dame Dolly Deluxe, but it’s just not enough. You could do worse with your panto choice, but there is far, far better.

On the naughtier side of the posh scale, Stephen Fry’s Cinderella is packing them in at the Old Vic. More a play with panto leanings than a proper panto, Fry has packed in the audience callbacks and classy London jokes but trades them off for intellectual ramblings and a defiance of panto tradition (nobody speaks in rhyme). Anne Dudley’s music is lovely, but she skimps out on the singalong by giving us an old standby instead of an original tune. The RZ’s companion (a huge anglo- and Fry-phile) loved it, and he left with a smile on his face which was enough. Stephen Brimson Lewis deserves props for his stunning set designs, and there were more than a few people in the circles (along with the RZ) wishing they could have been closer to see some of the costumes up close and the night after Buttons and Dandini’s wedding. Younger children, however, will be bored by all the big words flying around, but the intellectual families who want to safely slum it will be well served here.

The RZ’s companion also wanted to see Spamalot with Peter Davison, so a trip to the Palace was in order. The RZ saw the show with the OBC and again with Davison in August, and is mixed on returning to this piece: in some ways, it’s always good for a grin, and the RZ is a huge Davison fan. On the other hand, twice is enough to get all the jokes and the ensemble were clearly counting down the days to their break. The big dance numbers need refinement, and Hannah Waddingham’s Lady of the Lake lacks the discipline that a good stage manager or director should be giving her. Still, it’s hard not to laugh during the “Not Dead Yet” song, and it was thrilling to see Davison settle into the role after a tenuous performance over the summer. There’s talk of closing this in 2008 to make room for Priscilla, so book your tickets for the spring now (when the wonderful Marin Mazzie is in as the Lady).

Jack and the Beanstalk
Where: Barbican Centre
When: Varies through 12 Jan.
Cost: £16-£35
Concessions: Kids go half price. Everyone else pays full.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £8 - there’s better out there that’s more deserving.
RZ Other Notes: Princess Melody is insanely annoying, and the Barbican aren’t kidding about starting promptly after the interval (and weren’t kind enough to ring the standard bell) - the RZ barely cleared the ice cream line when they were starting up again and there was a mad dash from all to make it back in.

Where: Old Vic
When: Varies until Jan. 20
Cost: SOLD OUT, £15-£40
Concessions: 100 £12 tickets are reserved for under-25’s at all performances, seniors and disabled persons get £20 for top price tickets.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £15 - this is fun panto for grownups.
RZ Other Notes: Blah blah first gay mainstream panto blah blah fanservice yay. If you think that Fry’s full of himself, you’ll hate this. If you like your panto traditional, you’ll hate this. If you like jokes about the class structure of British supermarkets, you’ll love it. And the show curtain? Fabulous.

Where: Palace Theatre
When: M-Th, Sa @ 20:00, Fr @ 20:30, Fri @ 17:15, Sa @ 15:00
Cost: £15-£60
Concessions: Depends on which box office worker you get. Officially there are student matinees on Friday where students are guaranteed discounts. Sometimes they’ll give you a discount with your student ID or equity card 60 min. before, sometimes you can get front row stalls behind the conductor for £17.50 instead of full price (go 20-30 min. before curtain and ask for what’s cheap and ask for something better than what they point out). Sometimes they’ll tell you to sod off instead. If you want to play it safe, find an advance booking code or expect to run to TKTS.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £20. Add £5 for the first time, £10 if you’re a die hard Python fan or big on a cast member.
RZ Other Notes: As the concessions tag implies, the RZ and his companion were stuck going to TKTS and getting tickets in entirely separate areas due to the confusion over day seat policy. Don’t let this happen to you.

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