Magnifique! Fantastique! Ooh la la! Panto has returned to Lighthouse in Poole. This magical version of Beauty and the Beast has a decidedly Gallic flavour, is the first Lighthouse panto produced entirely in-house and it works like a dream.
Under the assured direction of its writer and star – Cbeebies legend Chris Jarvis – we find the time-honoured fairytale shuttling gloriously between Paris and Dorset.
With music and dance that starts with the La Marseillaise-tinged All You Need is Love and ends with a joyous can can, it is a marvellously family friendly production whic tells of beautiful Belle (Alice Rose Fletcher) and the handsome Prince Valentin (Wade Lewin). Brought together by Cupid (an excellent Tom Mann) they are cursed by evil enchantress Nightshade played with relish amid a hail of boos and hisses by soap star Michelle Collins.
With the couple banished to a haunted castle and Valentin turned into a hideous beast, it is down to Belle’s father, Marzipan (Ross Ericson), her sister Souffle (Georgia Grant-Anderson) and Chris Jarvis’s wonderful Dame, Betty Bonbons, to rescue them.
Their mission finds them battling with adversity, coping with cheerful chaos and, with assistance from Cupid, helping true love finally battle over evil. With the Prince and Belle freed from Nightshade’s curse, Betty Bonbon getting together with Marzipan and the sulphurously horrible Nightshade suddenly turned into a goody two shoes, there is nothing not to love.
It’s a great pantomime with a very strong cast and full of traditional slapstick and sass, including a riotous prop-laden 12 days of Christmas. There’s a contemporary twist or two and loads of topical humour and music. It’s a covid safe theatre too with state of the art air-con and strict protocols in place.
Chris Jarvis has been playing panto for nearly 30 years and it shows. He is a master of the craft and a brilliant children’s entertainer. Better still, after decades of playing Buttons, Simple Simon or Jack, with a variety of beanstalks, he is now in his 50s and has decided the time has finally come to play the Dame. Believe me the flamboyant Betty Bonbon has been worth waiting for.
Beauty and the Beast runs at Lighthouse, Poole, until New Year’s Eve. Do yourself a favour and snap up tickets for your family.
Dorset’s own up and coming film and TV actor Jamie Bacon is standing on a balcony at his parents home looking at views across the rooftops to Poole Harbour and talking about the kind of career that most of his contemporaries could only dream of.
He was one of the stars of White Lines, the 10 part Netflix mystery drama that screened earlier this summer, while his latest cinema film, Brighton, directed by Stephen Cookson, is, Covid permitting, also due for release in the near future.
The movie, based on a Steven Berkoff play, stars Phil Davis and Larry Lamb as a pair of ageing East London rockers returning to the seaside resort for the first time in 40 years.
In flashbacks to their youth Jamie plays the young version of the Larry Lamb character. “It was so enjoyable,” he tells me. “Being able to watch really experienced actors like Phil and Larry at work was such a privilege.
“Marion Bayley (partner of the director Mike Leigh and recently seen as the Queen Mum in The Crown) is also in it. You can learn a huge amount from people like that.”
And there you have it. Jamie, who initially trained at Poole’s Jellicoe Theatre, is looking like the man of the moment. At 27 and just four years out of drama school, he has barely stopped working. There are several films and a body of TV work already in the can yet he displays no arrogance. Just a willingness to work hard and learn. The industry has responded well.
Last year he appeared, uncredited, as Cool Dude in the Elton John biopic Rocketman but perhaps most impressive is the success of his own highly-praised and self-produced film Into the Mirror, a moving story of a young man struggling with gender identity.
Jamie co-wrote the piece with a friend, Charles Streeter, when they were between jobs. He produced the film himself and stars in the principal role as Daniel, a junior office worker adrift and deeply unhappy in the big city. Charles meanwhile plays a drag queen called Jennifer.
“I was sitting there waiting for the phone to ring and, as I love writing and had always wanted to make a film, I thought I might be able to make something happen rather than wait for someone else to do it for me,” he explained.
Into the Mirror was originally planned as a five minute short but, with backing from industry insiders and encouragement from, among others, Richard E.Grant, it soon developed into a 65 minute drama that had the critics sitting up and taking notice.
It tells how Daniel’s life is transformed when he discovers an underground club scene where his belief that he is really a girl begins to make sense. The story, in which he transitions into his female alter ego, was inspired by a Channel 4 documentary and brought praise from across the film world. Not only was it a sensitive and well-played piece but it proved what a diverse talent Jamie Bacon is.
The film, which received a special local screening at Lighthouse in Poole last December, found Jamie playing against type. In real life he is lean, well-muscled and decidedly heterosexual. His long-term girlfriend, the actress Beatrice May, was also in the movie with him.
Jamie, who loves surfing on the Dorset coast and when in London keeps fit by boxing several times a week, found that one downside of his fitness regime was that his shoulders were initially too broad to fit comfortably into the gown that had been specially prepared for the role. A few adjustments had to be made before shooting could begin.
The transitioning Daniel with his careful make-up and glamorous dress may be a world away from beach boy Jamie but he draws some parallels. “There are always people who will judge you and jump to conclusions and there have been times when I’ve felt judged,” he says. “When I was growing up and told people I was doing drama and dance I used to get some stick. So, although I’m the opposite of who Daniel is, I think there is something of him in all of us and I’m encouraged by his bravery.”
He’s delighted with Into the Mirror saying “It’s very positive and upbeat and although I’m not a spokesperson for the LGBT community I am very happy to draw attention to it and maybe help people understand more.”
It seems he’s achieved his aims if the review from Movie Nation is anything to go by: “Into the Mirror gets as close as any movie ever has to simulating the state of mind of someone conflicted, if no longer confused about his sexuality,” it states.
Other projects have included shooting the aforementioned White Lines with Daniel Mays in Ibiza. The Netflix drama which garnered impressive reviews focused on the discovery of the body of a legendary DJ 20 years after he mysteriously disappeared.
Jamie also features in Tea – a short film about racial tensions in a south coast town. He has also recently been shooting A Gift From Bob, the sequel to the hit feelgood movie A Street Cat Named Bob.
Jamie is quick to credit the performing arts course at the Jellicoe for inspiring him to pursue his acting career but says it was his mum and dad – builder and artist Ricky and his wife Sue – moving the family from London to Poole a decade ago that really set his life on its current course.
“I love it here,” he says, as we stroll out on the pontoon at Lilliput Sailing Club near the family home. “It was a perfect place to live and study and it is now the perfect place to come back to. After the pressure of London I can just get my surf-board, head for somewhere like Kimmeridge and recharge my batteries.”
Jamie says he’s under no illusions about the future of his career. “I’ve been very lucky but you can’t take anything for granted. Acting is such a tough business. One minute you’re working and the next you’re not. It’s just a question of keeping busy, trying to get the right auditions, getting seen for the right parts and hoping to be lucky. It’s peaks and troughs. A bit like surfing really. You just have to ride the waves.”
I am intrigued to see that Mathmos, the Poole based company that, back in 1963, launched that soon to become indispensable hippy accessory the lava lamp are celebrating the centenary of their founder Craven Walker.
Craven – his full name was Edward Craven Walker – was in some ways an unlikely inventor of the lamp that fascinated the counter-culture.
Ann Sidney swings her 4×4 into the car park at the Haven Hotel in Poole and leaps out shouting: “I’m so sorry I’m late!” Crikey! We’ve been here all of three minutes and she’s missed our agreed 2pm rendezvous by maybe 45 seconds. Not only does Ann look astonishing for a woman who turned 70 several months ago but half-a-century after she walked off with the Miss World crown she is as vital and energised as ever.
Enthusing about being back in Poole – the town in which she grew up – she apologises for wearing a hoodie, t-shirt and sports trousers . “Travelling clothes!” she explains. Never mind, she looks absolutely great but she also wants to be photographed in the flash dress she’s carrying on a hanger. Old habits die hard.
This play is an absolute triumph! Rachel Wagstaff’s stage adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ best selling novel Birdsong brings the murderous madness of the First World War battlefields on the Western Front into sharp focus.
Faulks’ poignant story of love, loss and inhuman suffering has been reworked as a magnificent piece of multi-layered theatre in this touring production by the Original Theatre Company.
Saw this fascinating stage production of A Clockwork Orange the other day. With an all-male cast and a bi-sexual vibe it somehow worked. It’s a strange, if understandable, fact that violence against women, as portrayed in Anthony Burgess’s original book and later in Stanley Kubrick’s famous film, is so shocking and unacceptable now that, if portrayed on stage, it would utterly eclipse the underlying message of the play. Even though it is a fictional account. So we have a production in which they substitute male rape with a broken bottle and it seems to go down just fine. What a weird world! Queer as a clockwork orange in fact. The word queer is of course being used here in its 1950s/60s sense to mean ‘strange’. What a powerful re-reading of a masterful story. A play that really gets its point across. See my review below.
I was much impressed last night by Creative Cow Theatre Company’s new version of that perennial favourite Charley’s Aunt. Stripped back just enough to slip seamlessly into a 21st century mindset, the original blockbuster show which wowed the West End in the 1890’s retained its essential and timeless charm and, once it actually got going, fair romped along. I should explain. There was a considerable delay but it had absolutely nothing to do with the theatre company. Ironically perhaps for a fast-moving farce that relies on an ‘old lady’ to wrong-foot the proceedings, the opening night at Poole’s Lighthouse was held-up for nearly half-an-hour after an elderly disabled woman became stuck in a lift that was attempting to lower her and her wheelchair to a suitable front-row position in the venue’s Studio Theatre. Five minutes after the official curtain-up time a stagehand appeared to apologise for “a technical problem”. Ten minutes later he returned and admitted that the problem in question involved a member of the audience stuck in a lift. The unfortunate lady was eventually extricated, found a suitable vantage point and the play went ahead – 25 minutes late. During the interval she was heard telling fellow audience members that her ordeal had been quite an adventure.
Anyone who lived through the sixties will have absorbed something of Steptoe and Son into their entertainment DNA. You mess with that kind of thing at your peril.
Creating an intriguing and affectionate adaptation of the classic Ray Galton and Alan Simpson sitcom was a brave move by director Emma Rice. It was also a clever move because it works rather well. I know because I went to see it at Lighthouse in Poole last night.
One of the main strengths of this co-production from long-time collaborators Kneehigh and West Yorkshire Playhouse is that it steers well clear of imitation. Scheming and manipulative rag and bone man Albert Steptoe and his dreamer of a son Harold played here by Mike Shepherd and Dean Nolan are significantly different from the hapless pair as portrayed by Wilfred Brambell and Harry H. Corbett on BBC TV.
The cor blimey Londoners from Oil Drum Lane, Shepherds Bush, now have a light West Country brogue and an indeterminate geographical location. No matter. You still get two fine actors who combine striking physical performance and adept stagecraft to deliver a comedy drama that plumbs the very essence of the original show. With Kirsty Woodward as mother, lover, doctor, dancer and occasional object of passing fantasies – Rice has used four original Galton and Simpson scripts to explore the desperate plight of the Steptoes.
An impressive set and a musical backdrop that takes in, among others, Elvis, Cliff Richard and the Rolling Stones marks both their passage through time and the increasing hopelessness of their situation, Albert and Harold – scarred by war and battered by circumstance – are locked in a dance of doom, trapped in their junkyard world forever.
The result is a strange mix of tragedy and comedy. As Emma Rice herself commented after reading the original Galton and Simpson scripts: “The work is deeper, darker and more intricate than I’d ever realized, watching as a child.”
I had the privilege of discussing this production with Galton and Simpson themselves a few months back. They admitted they were excited at the prospect of Albert and Harold getting a new theatrical outing. Rice and Kneehigh were, they said, worthy temporary custodians of the Steptoe legacy.
The pair, now 82 and 83, respectively still seem a little bewildered at their good fortune when they talk of the chapter of accidents that originally brought Steptoe to the screen more than 50 years ago.
They had just split from Tony Hancock and the BBC, horrified at the prospect of losing their comedy dream team, came calling cap in hand. “It was extraordinary,” recalled Galton. “Basically the guy in charge of humour told us: ‘You can do what you like, write what you like, cast who you like, you can even be in it if you want. Just write something new for us.’ We thought ‘Hello, he’s gone bonkers!’ Anyway, we started working on this Comedy Playhouse piece The Offer about two rag and bone men.”
Rather than use comedy actors, the piece starred Shakespearian actor and exponent of experimental theatre Harry H. Corbett and jobbing character actor Wifred Brambell. It worked a treat and the BBC instantly offered Galton and Simpson the chance to turn The Offer into a series.
Tired and jaded after years of scripting Hancock and others, the pair tried to turn the BBC’s proposition down. “We really didn’t want to do a series,” said Galton. “We said no for six months and eventually we just ran out of excuses. To be honest we weren’t particularly worried because we reckoned that if we asked Harry and Wilfred – who were straight actors – if they’d be in it, they’d certainly say no. We couldn’t have been more wrong. They jumped at it.”
Ironically the comedy gold that was Steptoe and Son would lead to bitterness and misery for Corbett and Brambell who gradually came to loathe each other. Brambell was a curmudgeonly gay alcoholic desperately trying to hide his sexuality from the public. While Corbett was an unhappy womaniser trapped by his own success and frustrated by a professional partner who would frequently forget his lines after drowning his sorrows with too much gin. They ended up as dependent on each other as Albert and Harold but off stage or off set could barely bring themselves to speak to each other.