As you’ll know from our feature last week, pantomime season is almost upon us, and this year the Cronx has not one but two big pantos taking place. Oh no it doesn’t, oh yes it does! (Yes I feel ready for panto gags this time). Last week we chatted with team Fairfield, and this week it’s team Stanley’s turn, as Stanley Arts and Petite Pantos are putting their own spin on the popular panto, Jack and the Beanstalk. We catch up with the director, dame, producer and writer, Mama G, as well as actor Jack Benjamin and the musical director Kevin Oliver Jones, ahead of the production opening this Saturday, 16 December.
Croydonist: First up, what part of London do you call home, and what are your links to Croydon?
Mama G: Well, I live in Woolwich right now, but I’ve lived all over the South East of London! I’ve performed at the Fairfield Halls several times in a panto, a production of Rainbow and even a murder mystery with Dirty Den! I’ve also been in the audience for a fair few pantos! I can remember seeing Sweep (of Sooty fame) singing Nessun Dorma while he looked for Snow White!
Jack: Woodside/South Norwood is home for me. I’ve lived in Croydon since 2015.
Kevin: I’ve lived in and around Purley since I was around 4 years old! Croydon was my old stomping ground when growing up and playing in bands in my teens!
Croydonist: Is this your first panto or are you seasoned panto people?
Mama G: This is my first panto I’ve performed in at Stanley Arts, but the fourth one I’ve produced, written and directed for the venue! I’ve been doing panto since 2005, so this is my eighteenth year in Panto Land, but I’ve probably been in over forty productions, if you include summer and easter pantos too. This year I’m actually in two at the same time!
Jack: This is my fourth one at Stanley Arts!
Kevin: My first professional panto was in 1994 (I think … it was a long time ago) and I’ve been musical director or supervisor on various pantomimes around the country since about 1999!
Croydonist: What’s your role in Jack and the beanstalk?
Mama G: I will be playing myself! I’m a storytelling panto dame (I tell stories about being who you want and loving who you are), so I start off narrating the show. It will come as no surprise to anyone that I end up very much involved! And off stage I’m the producer, writer and director!
Jack: I’m playing King Crimson.
Kevin: I’m the musical director and created all of the music tracks (and am responsible for the fart noises this year too!)
Croydonist: How are you finding the rehearsals?
Mama G: Rehearsals have been very busy, especially as I’m so heavily involved with all aspects of the production – but I am having a lot of fun! The cast are a great laugh and we’re spending most of our time gossiping and telling jokes! Stanley Arts is such a friendly building. There’s always someone interesting around the next corner! When rehearsals are getting tough I treat myself to a bit of the vegan banana bread from the café.
Jack: A lot of fun. I never laugh as much as when I’m in panto rehearsals. It’s a great chance to be silly and festive and then to share that with the audience.
Kevin: I love the creative process of putting a show together, especially pantomime! If everybody in a rehearsal room is having fun then hopefully that crosses the footlights and the audience will go with us on that journey and have fun too!
Croydonist: What makes this production of Jack and the beanstalk different to other Jack and the beanstalks out there?
Mama G: Everything about this production has been created specifically for Stanley Arts and the fantastic families that will be joining us. The set is new, a lot of the songs are original and the script has never been performed anywhere else before. The production has really been built with love – it’s not been stored in a warehouse during the year and shipped off to a venue we’ve never heard of before.
Jack: This is very much for the people of South Norwood and Croydon, and the jokes in the panto reflect that. Also, we’ve got the CherryStars! – the local theatre youth group. We’re spreading love and promoting inclusivity.
Kevin: Mama G of course! Oh and the great music … but I would say that wouldn’t I! A lot of people can be quite dismissive of pantomime and yet it can be the only time that some people go to the theatre during the year so it has to be done right. This version of Jack has all the right bits in all the right places and will leave everybody with a huge grin on their faces!
Croydonist: What are you most looking forward to about panto season?
Mama G: I genuinely love seeing all the families having fun and sharing the magic of panto – it just makes the festive season extra special!
Jack: The songs!!!
Kevin: The singing, the dancing, the stupidity and a nice long rest when it’s all done!
Croydonist: Do you get chance to sample the delights of South Norwood and the rest of Croydon (outside of Stanley Arts)?
Mama G: South Norwood is a thriving community with loads of great businesses on the high street and lots of creative people running them! My favourite places to visit while I’m here are Mantanah – a fantastic Thai restaurant, Communitea – a vegan cafe that does incredible food; and Mamma Dough, which does some of the best pizza in South East London! There’s also a recording studio called RMS Studios, which is a hidden gem of a place. Andy, who runs it, has helped record lots of songs for me – including the ones that are on my Story Time album (which is available to stream now.)
Jack: Yes! I live close to South Norwood Country Park and my kids love it there.
Kevin: Being a local I know Croydon fairly well … My favourite haunt is the Ship pub in Croydon where I used to play in bands many years ago! I also used to perform at Stanley Arts (when it was called the Stanley Halls) from about the ages of 7 till 14 as part of the Alexander Academy of Dance and Drama. Somewhere in the family archives there are some very incriminating pictures of me in my ballet tights! Those days (to use a panto gag) are definitely ‘behind me!’
Thank you to Mama G, Jack and Kevin for chatting with me. I’m eager to see the show next week.
Jack and The Beanstalk runs from 16–27 December 2023 at Stanley Arts, South Norwood, Croydon. You can book tickets here.
Photos courtesy of Stanley Arts. Production shots by SJKnight Photography.
Posted by Julia