Next week SLT stages ‘Jack’, a modern day fairytale sequel to Jack and the Beanstalk written by two of our members. Promising to be full of lots of panto fun and nonsense; it’s the perfect way to start the seasonal celebrations. We speak with Writer and Director Peter Stevens about the play.
You’ve written Jack with Matthew Davies – how did you come up with the idea, and how did you work together?
Pantomime is a British tradition, with its archetype characters and stock gags, reflecting and maybe challenging social norms. And as with any tradition, it’s continually evolving. I was in Aladdin, a few years back and it was the first time I’d really appreciated what you can do with the art form – it being a really funny script and with a heart and a great plot. I’ve wanted to try and create that sense of excitement, joy, laughter and tears ever since. It’s got to be a spectacle, it’s got to have great songs, and make everyone, young and old, laugh, and has got to move people and leave them in the mood for Christmas.
Quite often in panto, you can do things that you couldn’t normally “get away with” in a straight play. Through the medium of some silly jokes, some cheery songs, and some mucking about, you are able to both reflect and challenge social norms whilst leaving every audience member with the warm and fuzzies. I’m trying to make a show I wish I’d seen when I was a kid. Not sure what my Mum and Dad will make of it.
I’d seen Matt’s play’s “Brandy” and “Stiff” and loved his control of character and drama. His scripts just worked so well and were beautifully engaging. Plus I liked his macabre sense of humour. I’ve written a couple of short plays for the SLT Youth but when it came to the nitty gritty of writing dialogue I’d struggle. So I figured I know just the man to write the show I can’t. I also figured it was about time Matt wrote a play his kids could see. So I pestered him until he agreed and then told him what I was thinking for each scene and he just ran with it. I got the easy job of just reading it as it came to life.
What made you choose the music of the Pet Shop Boys to form the musical element of the show?
Pet Shop Boys’ music is eclectic, theatrical and affecting in the moods it creates. And of course they’ve ventured into using music for dramatic purposes in their musical Closer to Heaven, their ballet The Most Incredible Thing and their score for Battleship Potemkin. I’m a fan, and at their best over their 30 year career, nothing has made me happier or more excited or moved. I hope if the audience is less inclined to give them the air-time they’ll be won over by how the songs are used in the show. And there is a range of classics, album tracks and B-sides selected to underpin the dramatic content of the play. In fact, that’s the main way I devised the plot.
The Pet Shop Boys have a Christmas EP, the opening song of which just makes me feel christmassy and builds up so satisfyingly, it brings me to tears of joy and elation. It just sounds like the tongue-in-cheek finale of a great Christmas show, complete with curtain call ending. I assembled a long list of songs that to my ear, worked incredibly well at affecting different moods and I just needed to put them in order to create a full dramatic context.
I have been incredibly lucky with the cast – a perfect blend of SLT stalwarts and new members – who have thrown themselves into the songs and dances and scenes of the show.
What are the challenges of working with such a mixed group of actors and singers in a show like this?
Well, there’s an awful lot of them. But the great thing is what they add, not just in performing their socks off to bring the show to life, but in adding their ideas and sharing their charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent with the rest of the cast. It’s been a great collaboration where people have contributed so much more than just turning up to rehearsal.
What can the audience expect to experience in the show?
I’m really hoping the show ticks a whole heap of boxes for a lot of demographics; for those who love a good panto, for those who prefer a bit more substance and for those who just want a good night out. You may have to park a few preconceptions of panto at the door, but there’s no creep scene, no Benny Hill, no bloke in a dress. But there is a heavenly host of characters to root for and laugh with and boo at. If all goes according to plan, audiences should leave the first act excited and well chuckled and the second act with a tear in their eye, a song in their heart, a spring in their step and light glow to see them through to Christmas.
‘Jack’ plays in the Main Hall at Stanley Halls from Thursday, December 1 – 4, and from December 8-11. Evening performances start at 7.30pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Tickets are available here.
Photographs © Lee Ridgeway