Following a £7 million refurbishment last year (improving accessibility for disabled performers), the Catford Broadway Theatre in South East London is back in action this Christmas, with their festive panto Jack and the Beanstalk.
Written by acclaimed Hackney Empire panto writer, Susie McKenna (who has been writing their festive shows for over twenty five years), she is now branching out and headed south of the river to bring joy to people of all ages in Catford.
Set in ‘Lewishfarm’, we enter a world where the bees are dying and climate change is ruining the world. But that doesn’t matter to the town landlord Boris (the lying cockroach) who is tripling everyone’s rent, forcing them out of town and taking nature out with it. It’s down to Jack, to live up to his grandfathers heroic name and save the town from evil cockroaches.
Caroline and Jack are best friends. But when Jacks mum says they will have to sell Caroline (who is a cow) in order to survive, he reluctantly takes her off to market. But when he meets an elderly lady who doesn’t have any money but promises to take care of Caroline, Jack seems far too quick to give his best friend away for nothing, when they could have just as easily remained together and been no more financially better off. The old lady does offer up some magic beans in exchange but it feels like this happens a second too late in the story and the belief that Jack is losing his best friend becomes questionable.
Putting that aside (it is panto after all), despite the terrible sound quality and disappointing ‘slop’ scene that pantos are famed for, this is good family fun and has a real local community feel to it.
Siobhan Athwal is delightful as our storyteller, Queen Bee, but really comes in to her own in act two as the evil wife to Boris the cockroach. Siobhan says the best thing about being in the panto is ‘representation’ as it shows there is a place for everyone on stage, whatever your heritage and she couldn’t be more right about that. In this show, and sadly different to most pantos you will see this year, white people are the minority (for once) which is refreshing when in 2023, panto still seems to be whitewashed both on stage and off.
Derek Elroy does a good job as Dame Dolores Trott, playfully flirting with the audience but against other panto dames, feels quite reserved.
Wayne Rollins bring energy and fun to the role of Scarecrooooooooow, Durone Stokes is one to watch as happy chappy Jack and Evelyn Hoskins beams as SJ. The giant in act two is worth the ticket price alone.
Ben Fox is delightfully awful as Boris the lying Cockroach, and the audience are more than happy to boo him in what is a very political show!
As expected, our tale ends a happy one. Jack chops down the beanstalk leaving the evil cockroaches stranded with the giant – leaving the town of Lewishfarm to thrive. Hooray!