REVIEW: ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, Christmas 2021

 

Fee-fi-fo-fum, panto is back at Milton Keynes Theatre and the long-awaited Jack and the Beanstalk is gold-standard entertainment for everyone!

After so many restrictions and changes of direction in the real world, the only way is up (and sometimes around) in this giant pantomime spectacular. Ashley Banjo headlines in the title role and the other members of street dance troupe Diversity play his siblings. This means the dynamic moves on display throughout the show are slick, synchronised and seamlessly integrated into the story.

Pounding music and flashing lights welcome us to the Land of the Giants. Thunderous footsteps reverberate around the auditorium as we are introduced to the villain, Fleshcreep, who does Giant Blunderbore’s bidding. Most of the action then orbits around the Village of Roundybout, home to Jack Trot and his girlfriend, Princess Jill. Later, a foolish exchange involving the Trot family’s cow, Daisy, motivates our panto stars to climb up an enormous beanstalk to Cloudland. Here, daring and defiant, they take on an angry giant.

 

Jack and the Beanstalk at Milton Keynes Theatre, Christmas 2021. Ashley Banjo as Jack Trot and Diversity as Jack's siblings.

 

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REVIEW: ‘Aladdin’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, Christmas 2019

 

There is barely time to draw breath when watching Aladdin at Milton Keynes Theatre. This year’s pantomime leaves you gasping for air between the laughs and gasping in awe at the spectacular flying carpet.

Spare a thought, then, for motormouth comedian Joe Pasquale, whose role as Wishee Washee must leave him puffed out and parched by the interval. Talking a mile a minute, he bounds about the stage with a twinkle in his eye while getting up to mischief with props, his cast mates and audience members. His energetic sense of fun is truly infectious, and he has the entire auditorium creased up.

As a co-director and contributing writer, Joe seems to have had carte blanche to do his own thing in Aladdin and he does it extremely well. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t be Aladdin without the earnest, impoverished lad who falls for an exotic princess; is conned by the evil Abanazar; wanders into the Cave of Wonders and releases the Genie from a magic lamp.

Lee Mead (best known for winning the BBC talent show Any Dream Will Do and playing Ben “Lofty” Chiltern in the BBC’s Casualty and Holby City) is a class act as Aladdin. He has natural charm and a powerful voice. He pulls off the puns and enthusiastically throws himself into slapstick scenes with Joe. He really is everything you could wish for from a panto hero.

 

Aladdin at Milton Keynes Theatre, Christmas 2019. Joe Pasquale as Wishee Washee and Lee Mead as Aladdin.

 

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REVIEW: English National Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ – London Coliseum, Christmas 2018

 

Christmas at the London Coliseum means the return of English National Ballet’s Nutcracker, a festive favourite that is guaranteed to lift your spirits.

Nutcracker has been at the heart of English National Ballet’s repertoire since the company was established in 1950. The current production, the company’s tenth, dates from 2010. Devised by the artistic director at the time, Wayne Eagling, with designs by Peter Farmer, this interpretation largely follows the traditional scenario but has a few unique flights of fancy mixed in too.

On Christmas Eve, young Clara and her brother Freddie enjoy a party with family and friends. Clara receives a Nutcracker doll as a present but, after a skirmish with jealous Freddie, the doll gets broken and has to be repaired by the mysterious Drosselmeyer. The party ends, the children are sent to bed and Clara has an action-packed dream in which her Nutcracker is attacked by an evil Mouse King. Departures from the traditional narrative in Eagling’s offering include the enchanting addition of a hot air balloon to whisk Clara and her Nutcracker away; horrifying giant mice invading scenes that are conventionally rodent-free; and a Puppet Theatre replacing the customary Kingdom of Sweets in Act Two.

English National Ballet’s talented dancers capture all the requisite wonder and magic of the Christmas staple. Having demonstrated in recent years that they are as adept in contemporary choreography from the likes of Akram Khan as they are in the classics, they assuredly keep this familiar ballet feeling fresh.

 

English National Ballet's Nutcracker hot air balloon

 

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REVIEW: ‘Robin Hood’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, Christmas 2018

 

‘Tis the season to be silly and this year’s pantomime at Milton Keynes Theatre is a cheerfully chaotic take on Robin Hood.

In time-honoured panto tradition, the action-packed show features colourful costumes and sets, reworked pop songs, men dressed (barely!) as women, slapstick comedy and jokes that push the boundaries of innuendo.

Furthermore, in a more forward-thinking fashion to complement the old-school theatrical magic, Qdos Entertainment also incorporates an innovative 3D cinema interlude and uses thrilling technology to add a life-sized dinosaur to the mix. Madness? Yes, but this is pantomime so anything can happen!

 

The cast of Robin Hood. Milton Keynes Theatre's Christmas 2018 pantomime.

 

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REVIEW: ‘The Snowman’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, January 2018

 

Magical dance theatre production The Snowman is a winsome winter warmer of a show that will banish those troublesome January blues.

The Birmingham Repertory Theatre performance proved to be the perfect midweek pick-me-up for audience members of all ages on press night at Milton Keynes Theatre. Effortlessly combining a timeless tale with visual spectacle, The Snowman whisks transfixed theatregoers off to a place of nostalgia, innocence and satisfyingly snowy Christmases.

The wide-eyed wonder of a child enjoying the festive season is captured with grace and good humour in this charming interpretation of Raymond Briggs’ beloved children’s picture book, published in 1978, and the subsequent 1982 animated film.

Waking up on Christmas Eve, a young boy is delighted to discover that it is snowing. He eagerly rushes outside, gets acquainted with the white stuff and sets to work building a snowman. That evening, the anticipation of Christmas Day’s imminent arrival means the boy is more reluctant to go to bed than ever before. Still restless in the middle of the night, he sneaks downstairs and creeps outside to check up on his snowman. To his astonishment, The Snowman comes alive and the pair share a special, starry-skied adventure.

 

The Snowman stage show by Birmingham Repertory Theatre. A snowman dancing with a ballerina in a winter wonderland.

 

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