Spotlight On…. Stephen Beckett

Jack And The Beanstalk runs at Cambridge Arts Theatre until 7 January 2018, book your tickets here: Cambridge Arts Theatre

Actor Stephen Beckett first became known to me when he burst onto my television screen in The Bill on ITV – one of my favourite shows back in the day! This year I saw him take on the role of Prospero in The Tempest at Stafford Castle and he was extraordinarily exceptional in the role. So much so that his performance earned him a Break A Leg Award in our Critic’s Choice category. He can now be seen treading the boards as Fleshcreep in Jack And The Beanstalk at Cambridge Arts Theatre and he’s appearing with a stellar cast. I caught up with Stephen to find out all about his latest journey into Pantomime.

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Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, Stephen – you’re currently playing Fleshcreep in Jack And The Beanstalk, have you played the role before?

I have actually, six years ago. Here at Cambridge Arts Theatre in fact! I’ve played the Baddie here four times now.

Why do you think the Baddie is such an enjoyable part to play? 

I love the Baddie, it’s so much fun to play. What I like, particularly about this year’s is we’ve managed to get comedy into it as well as trying to be a bit scary. The role of the Baddie is very specific within a Pantomime, he’s there to scare people obviously but he’s also there to wind people up, poke fun at the people on stage in a comedic, farcical way. As opposed to just growling. I play my Baddie as a bit of a wind up merchant, merged with a touch of Michael Gove.

How do you make the role different for yourself each year? 

It’s a weird old thing but every Pantomime Baddie is different – for example Abanazer in Aladdin is magical, powerful and greedy, then you get Fleshcreep who’s the middle man down on earth trying to climb up the social ladder. Captain Hook of course is the classic Baddie who encompasses all of the traits, you can bring elements of the Baddies into the role. Fleshcreep is one of my favourites because you see him being really horrible but also subservient, scared of the fairy magic and trying to be manipulative.

How many years have you been treading the boards in Pantomime

This is tenth pantomime I’ve ever done.

Why do you think that the tradition of Pantomime has remained such a huge part of Christmas festivities? 

It’s extraordinary isn’t it? There’s something for everybody, it’s a family trip – something for the kids, something for the teenagers, something for mums, dads, grans, granddads. Then you’ve got the music, the dancing, the fun and the smashing down of the fourth wall. It’s literally about entertainment. It’s also really important to get the story across to children and hold their attention. It’s that fine balance of keeping the traditions going such as things going wrong, half on purpose and half not – while keeping the story alive. There are so many elements and there’s a lot more to it than people might think.

Finally, sell the show to me – why should everybody book tickets to see Jack And The Beanstalk in Cambridge? 

It’s a classic story that everyone knows and loves with a fantastic beanstalk, we’ve also got Tony Christie as the King of Amarillo, we’ve got the best Dame in the country, Matt Crosby, the bloke who plays the Baddie is alright – he gets away with it sometimes! Also, this seems to be one of the funniest pantomimes I’ve done.

Huge thanks to Stephen for his time straight after a performance, I will be trying my best to re-schedule my trip to see the show after the snow put pay to my original plan! 

 

 

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Jack And The Beanstalk ~ Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Jack And The Beanstalk stays at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until 14th January 2018 – book your tickets here: Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Star rating: *****

Last year’s pantomime at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre was exceptional – this season they’ve only gone and topped it! Truly one of the best pantomimes I’ve seen in years, completely flawless traditional family fun with a cast de force who offered all the right ingredients for a terrific show.

Jack And The Beanstalk offered plenty of returning cast members who helped to make Aladdin a triumph, last season. Lisa Riley as Mother Nature, offering quick wit and sparkle, Adam C Booth as Simple Simon – I’ve yet to see a comedy lead to compare to him. Then there’s Ian Adams as Dame Trot, he’s got some killer costumes and he tap dances, what more do you want? Doreen Tipton has also returned, she’s managed to get off her arse and play, quite simply, Doreen. She’s a marvel and had the audience in the palm of her hand, definitely one of the best performers to come out of the Midlands. Doreen is actually Jill’s mum, but there’s no maternal interest there – more of a concern for child tax credit when Jill is swept off to be fodder for the Giant. I had wondered if Doreen would play the cow, given that she’s a lazy cow, no type casting on this occasion! Gareth Gates is a strapping Jack, his vocals are the icing on the cake and he’ brilliantly matched with Sarah Vaughan as Jill. Graham Cole tops it off as Fleshcreep and he’s a slick, menacing Baddie, an outstanding performance. Of course a special mention must go to Daisy the Cow, too! The Giant is spectacular too, I was mesmerised by him.

The set is glittering, elegant and frames the action beautifully. It certainly lends itself to a fairy tale setting. There’s a good, wide variety of musical numbers too – rather than focusing on putting every hit of 2017 in there, the songs are appropriate, relevant and they fit. From Rather Be to Just Dance to Unchained Melody. The script offered some original content, too, while some renowned gags felt all shiny and new due to their superb execution. For example, the Twelve Days of Christmas had me doubled up with laughter and I’ve seen that done countless times before. It goes to prove that the perfect combination of performers makes all the difference.

The auditorium was rocking, I was itching to give a standing ovation and it’s one of the first pantomimes I’ve felt I could return to watch again and again. Well done Wolverhampton – you’ve got a winner on your hands!

 

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