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JACK AND HIS BIG STALK (article first published : 2005-11-9)

Now in its tenth successful year, the adult pantomime presented by Sue Clarence Promotions has become so much a part of Durban’s festive season that it wouldn’t seem like Christmas in Durban without this madcap group offering their irreverent send-ups of well-known fairy tales.

With the time-honoured creative team of Peter Court as director and Anthony Stonier as musical director – also co-writers - in place, Jack & His Big Stalk is settling in for what will undoubtedly be a highly successful run over the holidays.

Once again in the role of the hero is Mark Kay as an amiable Jack who becomes more physically endowed as the action progresses. Jack’s big buddy is a talking cow – Dean Roberts with a Chatsworth accent and dressed in a really cool outfit with a diamond stud in his bovine ear. Jack’s mother, looking stunning in gowns by Annarosa’s Dress-Up, is Anthony Stonier who handles most of the songs. I particularly enjoyed a torchy I Wanna be Evil and his New York New York and The Stripper were major crowd favourites.

Peter Court, who has designed the rest of the costumes, is a hilarious Melanoma and appears in a never-ending succession of outrageous outfits. His duet with Anthony is a delight. Newcomer to the group – and, indeed, to the Durban professional theatre scene - is Tarryn Stevenson as Princess Ophelia. She valiantly held her own against the rest of the stalwarts but needs to work on her singing voice.

And then, of course, there’s the Giant – or in this case, the myopic Giant Tess (work it out!) – with Aussie accent and Tina Turner type wig played by Rowan Bartlett who particularly impressed me this evening. Watching him belt out Rough & Ready Man, I thought back over the years to when he first started with Garth Anderson’s Actors Co-Operative. He is now well on the way to taking his rightful place among the major role-players on Durban’s theatre scene.

Up until now, the adult pantomimes have taken place in supper theatre venues so it takes a fair bit of adjusting to approach the show as a straight (anything but!) theatre piece in its new home at the Catalina on Wilson’s Wharf. Maybe it’s the distance between the stage and dining tables that has created a comfort zone for this over-the-top genre. At the Catalina there’s no place to hide, as it were, and the performance is very much “in your face”. For actors and audience alike, it’s up close and personal!

Expect the usual wild and whacky nonsense that bears only a very vague resemblance to the original nursery fable. There are two mermaids who upstage the entire proceedings as do a couple of groovy seagulls. Not a chance is missed to catch sexual innuendoes even if the association is very remote! All good (I daren’t say “wholesome”) fun.

The Catalina stage is a difficult one to play because of its width and there were certain solo numbers that needed some extra choreography. There were microphone problems this evening as well as other sound-related glitches but hopefully these will be sorted out in the next few days.

Jack and his Big Stalk runs until December 31. Tickets R75 booked through Liesl or Janice on 031 305 6889. For block booking discounts and charity fundraisers contact Debbie on 083 447 5221 or Glenda on 031 305 7612. The show runs nightly except Mondays at 20h30 (Sundays at 18h00). – Caroline Smart




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