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Phil Willmott

Pre-recorded Pantomime?? Will that Work?

Jack and the Beanstalk You have to admire the ingenuity of UK Theatre makers who, since Covid took hold, have found all sorts of ways to send their shows to your smart phones and laptops etc whilst we're unable to go to the theatre in person.

I'll be frank - most of it has been pretty unsatisfactory and I've more or less given up watching. Why tune in to badly filmed theatre that's not as good as TV when there's so much excellent TV to watch.

(What are you enjoying? Personally I'm loving THE CROWN and HARLOTS)

The next band of producers stepping into the streaming fray are pantomime bosses as their season approaches with no prospect of theatre returning to normal.

But a huge factor in how pantomime works is getting the audience to join in with the cast. The characters cue us, we shout out, the characters respond wittily.

How will that work when we're all in different rooms across London and the performers can't hear us?

I have seen on-line productions where you log in as with a Zoom call and cast and spectators can hear each other but it's very fiddly, fun-sapping experience having to remember to mute and unmute at he right time. And if any household forgets to remute everyone can hear what's going on in their living rooms along with the production. It's just about been possible for groups of up to 40, but any "crowd" larger than that is likely to be chaotic.

But let's give it the benefit of the doubt. Theatre makers are ingenious folk. May be they've found a way around this.

Here's word from seasoned pantomime expert Peter Duncan. I've worked with him, he really knows his stuff and has signed deals with UK cinema chains Everyman and Showcase to give a cinema release to his socially distanced online pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk.

I'd have thought it's going to be particularly tricky to install a sense of spontaneity and audience interaction as the production was actually filmed last summer.

Never-the-less we're told -

"Jack and the Beanstalk is a planet-saving pantomime packed with topical references, songs, laughter and great special effects for all the family. Giant Blunderbore is in a terrible rage. He shouts from above threatening to eat any villager who won’t pay their rent. Poor Dame Trott has to sell her precious cow ‘Buttercup’ and sends her son Jack to the cow market.

All he comes back with is a worthless bag of beans. Jill, the grumpy Squire’s daughter is kidnapped by the Giants personal chef, Fleshcreepy and taken to the castle in the clouds, which is actually in the neighbours garden. Will Jack be the hero, climb the beanstalk, rescue his girlfriend and save the world from the human chomping ogre. Only the magical Garden Fairy knows the answer to that..."

The film has impressed UK cinemas chains and it will now get a VIP red carpet premiere at the Everyman Cinema in Crystal Palace at the beginning of December, then roll out to all Everyman cinemas on December 4, followed by Showcase and Showcase Cinema De Luxe cinemas on December 11.

Peter Duncan said: “This really does feel like a fairy tale ending - and I have to pinch myself that our little film is going to end up being screened at 55 cinemas across the UK. When I had the initial idea for Panto Online, I naively though we might shoot a traditional panto guerilla-style on mobile phones, but that evolved and was upscaled as I recruited the cast and production team – who were all friends and colleagues I’d worked with before on other projects.

I’m thrilled that it gave work to 35 unemployed actors and freelance creatives. We are now rushing to finish all post-production work to ensure ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ is a wonderful cinema treat for those who prefer a group outing to join in the boos, cheers, shouts of ‘he’s behind yous’, a sing-a-long song and all the classic panto antics that families normally love in a theatre setting. There may be no 007 and Christmas may have been cancelled by all the studio blockbusters, but ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ is coming to a cinema near you to cheer us all up. Oh, yes it is!”

View Jack and the Beanstalk cinema trailer here: