Have You Bean to Brum? Jack and the Beanstalk: The Birmingham Hippodrome Panto 2014

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Another year, another hilarious Hippodrome panto – it’s hard to believe that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was so long ago, but here we are again.

DSCF3552This Christmas, Jack and the Beanstalk sees its murderous giant brought to life in stunning 3D by Whizzbang 3D Productions before a squealing audience. On press night at least, there were also a few squeals of a rather different sort directed at the show’s leading man, Blue’s Duncan James. Assisting the wicked giant is the slimy, treacherous Fleshcreep, played by Coronation Street‘s Chris Gascoyne, looking excellent in a sweeping black coat, top hat, shades and thick eyeliner. Meanwhile, helping out our hero on the good team are Jane McDonald’s glamorous Enchantress and returning comedy trio Gary Wilmot, Paul Zerdin and Matt Slack, as Jack’s mum, Dame Trot, and his two bonkers brothers, Simple Simon and Silly Billy.

As ever, the show is an absolute visual feast – and not just because it features enough beans to feed a family for weeks and a comedy routine centred on the names of different chocolate bars. Stunning sets, beautiful backdrops and gorgeous, glittering lights are all in abundance, while the fabulous array of costumes includes the Enchantress’s dazzling dress, Fleshcreep’s gothic get-up and a whole host of fluffy farm animals who gallop, trot and pad across the stage for a charming dance sequence with the Dame. As well as the giant, the special effects also encompass a beanstalk so tall it looks as though it might topple (don’t worry – no audience members were harmed in the staging of this performance, as far as we know), and an amazing helicopter and animatronic giant that operate with a similar mechanism to last year’s Black Country dragon.

DSCF3526Throughout the show, there’s a brilliant chemistry between Jane McDonald’s and Chris Gascoyne’s constantly clashing helper characters, and Wilmot, Zerdin and Slack are back on form, bouncing off each other and providing the driving energy behind this production. There are some great set pieces in Act I, including the aforementioned chocolate bars skit, some well-timed slapstick from Silly Billy, and a couple of nice moments with Simple Simon and his cheeky puppet, Sam. However, it’s in the second half that the comedy really picks up, with a hysterical 12 Days of Christmas routine which last night saw one viewer almost knocked out by flying loo rolls. Up in the giant’s castle, Dame Trot and her boys keep up their spirits with a rendition of “All About That Bass”, and the end of the show features some audience participation when Paul Zerdin invites some of the little ones up onto the stage for a sing-song – and, of course, some human ventriloquism.

But the gags aren’t the only thing guaranteed to have you leaving the theatre with a smile on your face: brilliantly choreographed, the big dance numbers to the classic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and Pharrell’s irresistible “Happy” will have you grinning and humming along whether or not you mean to.

Once again, Michael Harrison and Qdos bring you panto at its finest. Oh yes they do.

Jack and the Beanstalk is showing at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Sunday 1st February, with a special relaxed performance on Thursday 29th January. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Hippodrome website, and don’t forget to watch out for a Radio 2 broadcast about Britain’s biggest pantomime on Christmas Day.

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Oh Yes It Is! – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Panto Press Launch

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Yesterday morning, details of the upcoming Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs pantomime by the Birmingham Hippodrome in association with Qdos Entertainment were released as part of a special media launch. Members of the press were invited to meet with the cast, including its newly revealed leading lady, Danielle Hope, the 21-year-old winner of the BBC’s Over the Rainbow series.

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Along with a couple of my fellow First Night Bloggers, I was lucky enough to be invited along to the launch to catch a glimpse of some of the show’s fantastic set and costumes. After a brief introduction in which we were duly reminded that there were only 92 (now 91) shopping days until Christmas, and only 84 days till the opening of the UK’s biggest pantomime, the cast were revealed in all their glittering, camped-up splendour to an audience which was almost as excited as they were.

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Stephanie Beacham swanned around as an impressively imperious Wicked Queen, her icy image only slightly marred when she took five for a coffee, clutching an incongruous paper cup between long glitzy fingers in pointed, elongated gloves. Young talent Danielle Hope looked every bit the innocent, girlish beauty amongst her more experienced colleagues, while true to form, Gok Wan rattled off jokes and wisecracks, primarily about his own tight-fitting, futuristic Man in the Mirror get-up. Said outfit was described by one interviewer as “Storm Trooper meets Dynasty”: Gok’s own interpretation was rather earthier.

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Once the discussion got underway, members of the cast shared their experiences of Birmingham, of pantomimes and of other similar acting roles. Self-dubbed “panto veteran” Matt Slack (set to play the Queen’s henchman Oddjob), will join Gary Wilmot (the Dame), John Partridge (the Prince) and ventriloquist Paul Zerdin (Muddles), who between them boast a sizeable list of Birmingham Hippodrome panto credits. For Stephanie Beacham, her role in this show is a familiar one, and something of a return to roots: her first experience of the stage was as the Wicked Queen in a pantomime in Golders Green. More recently, she portrayed Elizabeth I at the Birmingham REP, whom she described as “another wicked queen” of sorts. Although new to pantomime, Danielle Hope’s experience playing Dorothy in the West End has amply prepared her for this fairy-tale part as, perhaps, has her favourite childhood past-time of dressing up as princess Snow White. Meanwhile Gok Wan claimed that he’d only come over to Southside for a Chinese takeaway, and had been rather surprised to find himself sitting in front of an audience looking, in his own words, “gayer than ever”.

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Yet, even for those more accustomed to stage acting and pantomimes particularly, this was an occasion for many “firsts”: it was Matt Slack’s first time in a Birmingham Hippodrome pantomime, Gary Wilmot’s first time in a dress, and Danielle Hope’s first time in the fair city of Birmingham.

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A time for firsts and a time for bests, perhaps? Said Michael Harrison, Managing Director of Qdos Entertainment’s Pantomime Division and Director of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs:

“I’m thrilled and delighted to have assembled this galaxy of stars for this year’s spectacular Birmingham Hippodrome pantomime. It’s a long time since Snow White was last performed at the theatre and it seems fitting that its return as Britain’s biggest pantomime should feature such an incredible cast. This brand-new production is set to be the most spectacular Birmingham has ever seen.”

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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs will be showing at the Birmingham Hippodrome from Thursday 19th December 2013 until Sunday 2 February 2014. Tickets are available via the Birmingham Hippodrome website. A relaxed performance, specially adapted for people with learning difficulties, will take place on Thursday 30th January.

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Click here to watch the BBC Midlands Today coverage of the launch.

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