The value of one cultural organisation is exemplified this week by its first in-house Christmas show. DAVID WHETSTONE sat in on Dance City’s Jack and the Beanstalk
IT’S not all doom and gloom. One North East arts venue has taken the festive wraps off its very first Christmas show and yesterday the premiere was enjoyed by an audience consisting of lots of children and some adults.
You might remember that Dance City was the venue for a show called Angelmoth a few years ago but that was the work of BalletLORENT and it later embarked on a national tour, becoming the Christmas show at Sadler’s Wells in London.
Jack and the Beanstalk is an in-house show, commissioned by Dance City and created and rehearsed on the premises.
“It’s not a panto,” Dance City boss Anthony Baker had warned. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I had expected a dance show – or at least a show incorporating a lot of contemporary dance. But it’s not really that either.
This is a clever spin on the famous tale infused with a lot of physicality and earthy humour and a dash of aerial aplomb.
Verity Quinn’s set - and this is not a criticism, I promise – is rather reminiscent of one of those canine agility courses you used to see on TV screenings of Crufts – boxes and stepladders and a hoop suspended over the performance area.
The cast of four are playing around as the audience takes its seats, pulling faces and making the children laugh.
“We knows a story that’s specially tall,” say the characters as the show begins. “Have you heard of a tall story?”
If not, we’re about to. This is a Jack and the Beanstalk in an urban setting with Jack, who has a performing circus of fleas, and his family reliant on a rooftop vegetable patch for the produce they sell to pay the rent.
When the sun disappears – snatched by the giant at the top of the beanstalk – the plants wilt and the family finds itself in an extreme version of austerity Britain.
Ruth Johnson plays Jack, Rebecca Hollingsworth is his mum, Meg. Rachel Teate plays various roles, including the giant’s little sister whom Jack strikes up a friendship with when he shins up the monster vegetable that emerges from the magic beans.
The biggest cast member, Ian McLaughlin, dons outsize feet, hands and nose to do the fee-fi-fo-fumming.
All worked hard yesterday to engage their mostly young audience but their task had been made easier by writer Laura Lindow and director Rosie Kellagher who have wide experience of what works with kids.
Another on-stage presence, composer and musician Jeremy Bradfield, almost stole the show for me with his exceptional one-man band.
The kids, though, were engrossed by the performers and that’s the way it should be. As Jack fled from the roaring giant, having nicked his box containing the life-giving sun, dozens of little faces were urging him on.
This is just the ticket for a Christmas show for young children, full of energy and invention and with a happy ending – and lasting an action-packed hour.
After yesterday’s premiere, Anthony Baker spoke of the “great plans” he has for Dance City.
This in spite of the possible loss of £100,000 a year from Newcastle City Council, which amounts to 20% of Dance City’s annual subsidy, the rest coming from the Arts Council.
To their credit, many leading arts figures are managing to maintain a positive stance while also warning of financially tricky times ahead.
“It’ll be difficult and we might have to change some of the things we do but we’ll still be here and we’ll carry on,” said Anthony.
He explained that, unlike the Newcastle theatres, most people visit Dance City to take part in classes and programmed activities.
Arguably, its remit has as much to do with physical health and fitness as cultural engagement. But the two do go hand-in-hand and Dance City has been remarkably popular and successful since its new building opened six years ago.
“We’re still working on different scenarios (in relation to the city council’s proposed 100% funding cuts to cultural organisations) but we are determined to be measured in terms of how it impacts on delivery,” said Anthony.
“We believe in what we do and we’ll continue to do it.”
:: Jack and the Beanstalk, which is aimed at families with children aged four to seven, runs until Saturday with performances at 10.30am and 1.15pm. Tickets are just £6 and you can contact the box office on 0191 261 0505 or visit www.dancecity.co.uk