The two funny men making up Britain’s longest running double act, Cannon and Ball, are panto pros. Over their 44 years in the entertainment business, they have clocked up 27 pantomimes. And, like
the British public, they love them. “Panto pulls in the crowds.” says Bobby Ball. “It’s a family thing and for many children it’s their first introduction to theatre. Mum, dad, kiddies, grandma,
granddad… the whole range come to see the show”
“Nothing beats a panto at Christmas,” adds Tommy Cannon, “It’s down to tradition. We are the only country in the world that understands it. Americans just don’t get why the bloke is dressed up as a
woman and the man is a girl in tights.”
Jack and the Beanstalk at The Alban Arena this year is a variation on the standard panto recipe. A young male plays the principal boy, Jack, and there are two villains, played by Cannon and
Ball, to boo and hiss. For a pair who have performed practically every panto in the book as the familiar soft centred funny guys, this change to the dark side presents a challenge. Says Bobby:
“It’s a new vehicle for Tom and me, firstly playing Flesh Creep and Big Bad Bob – usually we are ourselves – and secondly being the bad boys. But we will play them as funny-evil characters. We
always try things out as we go along and improvise – but not too much, or we won’t get to the pub afterwards.”
Other innovative newbies in this panto are the animated TV cartoon character Mr Bean, a cute Muppet style calf instead of the conventional two-ended man-filled cow suit, plus plenty to suit today’s
techno kids – as panto producer Jon Conway reveals, the 3m high giant is mechanised and operated by a skilful stunt man from The Lord of the Rings.
And Jack, the hero, played by Ricky K, a young energetic variety star with street appeal, is brought into the MySpace generation as at one point he gets into a gripping game of Wii Guitar Hero with
Mr Bean, battling it out against Big Bad Bob and Flesh Creep.
As for the plot, it’s inspired too. Mr Bean lodges with The Old Woman who lives in the Shoe and her many children, including a Hannah Montana wannabe. Mr Bean gets involved in the action, and, true
to form, makes a mess – especially when he turns the gold into beans. Cannon and Ball supply ageless and timeless classic comedy such as a manic jousting scene, and their famous routines are woven
in to the story.
The modern trimmings in this Jack and The Beanstalk keep the show fresh, current and members of the cast on their toes, but at the heart lies the tradition that is part and parcel of panto.
There are groanable jokes, puns and slapstick, the dame, the villains, the principal boy and girl and the happy-ever-after ending – all sparking off the inevitable aahs, boos, screams and belly
laughs. And that, to Tommy Cannon and Bobby Ball, is the whole point.
“It’s an impossibility to laugh and worry at the same time,” says Bobby, “and if we can take people’s worries away just for a few seconds, we will have done our job.”
Jack and the Beanstalk featuring Cannon and Ball, Mr Bean and Ricky K as Jack is at The Alban Arena from Friday, December 12 to Sunday, January 4, £11 to £19. Times vary.
Details: 01727 844488, www.alban-arena.co.uk