All About Jack

Ever had one of those ideas that you know could turn out to be either the best or worst idea you ever had – you’re just not sure which it is?

Jack The Ripper The Panto poster

That was how Graham Parry and Jim Blythe felt way back in 2008 having spent a fair chunk of that year writing a comedy musical called ‘Jack The Ripper The Panto’. Following its third sell out performance in October 2012 they decided it was probably one of their best but it could all have been very different.

Jim recalls, “It all started when we were writing sketches and scratching around for ideas for shows that I could produce when I was running the Laughing Monkey Theatre Company. Having previously written a short sketch about a pantomime version of MacBeth we began thinking of variations on that well adapted piece. MacBeth The Farce? Or a full length MacBeth The Panto?”

 

“The trouble was” adds Graham, not wishing to be left out, “that we didn’t think it would stretch to a full length production which was when we had the idea of performing two one act pantomimes; MacBeth and something much darker.”

“We’ve both had plenty of experience of the traditional panto”, added Jim, rudely butting in as usual, “acting, writing and directing – and we were definitely looking for subject matter as far removed from the normal fairy tale as possible. A chance to subvert the genre by telling a story that really shouldn’t be a panto.”

In fact, having decided that an unconventional pantomime might just prove popular, the brainstorming threw up the darkest most unlikely material until, from out of the ether, sprang ‘1984’. Plenty of comic potential suggested itself. “We’re going to have sex now, Boys and Girls. If you see the Thought Police you will tell us, won’t you.” For a week or two 1984 seemed like a runner, until Jim and Graham looked more closely at the existing copyright conditions and realised they would fall foul of the Orwell Estate, unless they migrated the production to Canada!

Cindy is grabbed by the rozzers

Hopes dashed with that one they set about finding a royalty free alternative and in a flash of inspiration, ‘Jack The Ripper The Panto’ was born. Initially it was still going be just this one act production dueting with the Scottish Panto, but as the creative juices flowed they realised that it could make a full length production in its own right.

With Jim having left the room for a comfort break, Graham got the opportunity to speak again. “Right from the start we were both very clear that we were aiming at an adult audience, or at least 16+, and that we wanted to pastiche the genre whilst retaining its key elements; principal boy, Dame, audience participation. What we definitely wanted to avoid was a total smut fest. Sinderella had been there and done it. The challenge was to write a pantomime that wasn’t a pantomime, for an adult audience, where the songs were original and integral to the story, and the humour sprung from the plot, situations and characters rather than just one sex gag after another.”

They secured the services of regular musical collaborator Tym Dartnall to write the music and work begun.

They threw in a hint of Dick Whittington in the character of Jack (who they decided early on should be the hero of the piece) travelling to London with psychotic cat, Manson and the obligatory Fairy Godmother, there meeting principal girl, Cindy, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Cinderella.

As the premiere of the show approached though, they both started to get a few ‘jitters’.

“We were worried that the audience might not get the joke and take the show in the wrong way.” says Jim, by now back in the room. “Cancelling the production was even discussed in some panic-stricken meetings as those concerns grew and we became convinced that having to duck out the theatre through a side door to escape an enraged mob demanding their money back and our heads on platters was a real possibility.”

Dorothy, Dame extraordinaire

They needn’t have worried. In November 2009 at the Puppet Theatre in Norwich, they were rewarded with full houses and positive responses all round. Caught completely by surprise, they were unable to take advantage of staging further performances that year and so Jack returned in 2010 with largely the same script and cast but to bigger audiences and an even greater reaction. They tried resting the show but demand from the public and the cast meant it was soon back again in 2012, this time at the larger Maddermarket Theatre with a majority of new cast members, chorus and dance troupe. The script was re-written and re-worked to tighten it up and hone the humour.

 
As an additional feature, they arranged for the show to be live streamed to the waiting world, and Graham created this web site to aid promotion. The end result was another hugely successful sell-out run and hundreds more people viewing the show online.

And so to Jack’s next big adventure, this time at the Norwich Playhouse as a brand new production, proving that in this case Jim and Graham had a very good idea.