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Christmas Mysteries: A Sherlock Carol @MaryleboneTHLDN

A mash-up of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol and Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes would seem an unlikely pairing. Yet it provides a surprisingly fun Christmas-themed adventure. These two Victorian tales (albeit separated by about 40 years) provide the basis for an inspired adventure at Christmastime that just also happens to turn out to be a murder mystery as well. With lavish costumes, a few spooky set pieces and some good old-fashioned stage trickery with lights and a lot of smoke machines, it is hard to resist. It returns to the Marylebone Theatre for Christmas after a run there last year.  The premise is that after Holmes sees off the criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty, he is left adrift in London. People thought he was dead, and he might as well be. Disinterested in the misdeeds of other Londoners, Holmes has even given up on his friend Dr Watson. It's almost as if he has become a Scrooge. Or half a Scrooge, moping about shouting, "bah" in respon

Panto variations on a beanstalk: Jack & The Beanstalk

Jack & The Beanstalk currently playing at the Theatre Royal Stratford East is a fun off-beat panto that puts a bit of a modern twist on the story of young Jack, a boy who sells the family cow for a bunch of beans. Theatre Royal Stratford pantos tend to be offbeat with crazy ideas and original music. Some of these were confusing enough for me to be flipping through the programme to see if there was any background information on the traditional tale. But it was hard not to like the introduction of the "spider organ" character when he appeared towards the finale and wanted to fight Jack with his eight legs, musical instrument and enormous sac. It could have been the effects of the fine wine consumed at interval, but it felt like an amusing moment.

While most pantomime productions are a mix of colourful costumes, elaborate sets and a selection of pop hits, the bar is set a little higher here as the production has original music written by Wayne Nunes and Perry Melius. The challenge with original music is that it needs to be catchy and entertaining to engage the audience. It is not always successful and perhaps there are a few too many songs that slow things down. The show itself could probably benefit from a shorter interval and a quicker running time if it jettisoned some of the songs, subplots and the imaginary rabbit that was Jack's best friend. Although it is hard to be too mean to anyone playing a giant seven foot rabbit that is made from a psychadellic crochet pattern that I think my mother also has...

The sets and costumes are simple and there are some clever touches with lighting effects and the use of curtains for scene changes that keep things bright and fun. And by the time Jack climbs the beanstalk and finds himself face to face with the ogre, there is an impressive and scary display of puppetry at work here, which had the audience in awe.

Gemma Salter as Lucy is tasked with being the first on stage and getting the audience participation going early with a somewhat rousing version of "She'll be comin' round the mountain". It is a tough sell to get the audience that has just arrived to get into the panto spirit but she somehow manages to do it. Her character also serves as a bit of a tomboy love interest for Jack as well.

Michael Bertenshaw as Dame Mrs Trott is refreshing as a very male pantomime dame and gives some of the evening's best lines for the older members of the audience. Windson Liong is great as Mr Fleece and manages to go from a villain to a song-and-dance-man / good guy (in addition to playing the incredible spider organ) by the end of the show. He also managed to get the younger members of the audience worked up into such a frenzy to tell him the plot, that some of them seemed to be bursting with authoritative information on the subject...

Good fun, this Jack & The Beanstalk runs at Theatre Royal Stratford East until Saturday 19 January. There is loud music, a fantastic looking Ogre, cheap laughs and a few gentle plugs for the season's sponsor Gallions Reach Beckton.

Post panto musings with @Johnnyfoxlondon captured on the boo below...

listen to ‘Beanstalk boo: Jack and the beanstalk fun at Stratford’ on Audioboo

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