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Gants Hill dragons reboot traditional fairy tale onto a 21st Century stage

PUBLISHED: 10:00 24 January 2016

The Dragon Theatre Company rehearsing for its production of Jack and the Beanstalk. Photo: Ken Mears

The Dragon Theatre Company rehearsing for its production of Jack and the Beanstalk. Photo: Ken Mears

Archant

For more than 250 years, the classic English fairytale Jack and the Beanstalk has endured, becoming one of the nation’s favourite children’s stories in the process.

The Dragon Theatre Company rehearsing for its production of Jack and the Beanstalk. Photo: Ken MearsThe Dragon Theatre Company rehearsing for its production of Jack and the Beanstalk. Photo: Ken Mears

Most recently immortalised in 2014’s Hollywood hit “Into the Woods” starring 19-time Oscar nominee, Meryl Streep, the fable has since been given a modern twist by Ilford’s Dragon Theatre Company.

Playwriter and children’s book author Jenny Rees, 65 who lives in Hainault, is wrote, directed and produced the “fast paced” play that has “lots of fun” for children and adults alike.

She said: “We hadn’t performed Jack and the Beanstalk for many years and I had never used this particular storyline.

“It was a challenge to put a slightly different spin on it.”

The Dragon Theatre Company rehearsing for its production of Jack and the Beanstalk. Photo: Ken MearsThe Dragon Theatre Company rehearsing for its production of Jack and the Beanstalk. Photo: Ken Mears

The original story centres on Jack, a young lad who lives with his mum and a dairy cow whose milk is their only source of income.

One day the cow stops producing milk and Jack’s mother tells him to sell the cow at the market. On the way, Jack meets an old fellow who offers him three “magic beans” in exchange for the cow. Convinced he can deliver his family from poverty, Jack makes the trade.

Jenny’s modern twist features a princess who is desperate to escape a space ship she lives on and the villain of the play “Gortex Lycra”.

“The princess swallows a potion which she hopes will turn her into an earthling but instead she changes into the first thing which catches her sight, Jack’s dairy cow,” says Jenny.

The Dragon Theatre Company rehearsing for its production of Jack and the Beanstalk. Photo: Ken MearsThe Dragon Theatre Company rehearsing for its production of Jack and the Beanstalk. Photo: Ken Mears

“Gortex sends down two people to find the princess. They then realise the princess is the cow and sells Jack three beans for it.”

It took Jenny about a month to write the script which she wrote with a wide audience in mind.

She said: “There is a lot of shouting and hollering and a chase through the auditorium.

“We have tried to make it as fun as we can and the humour is for children and adults so everybody who comes will enjoy aspects of it.”

The tradition of group members writing plays dates back to when the theatre company formed in November 1976 when a group of friends decided it would be fun to put on a pantomime.

Originally the group was named the “St Cedd’s Players” after the church hall in Goodmayes it practiced in for 23 years.

Founding member Mary Anthony, wrote the group’s stage production of Cinderella which hit the stage in February 1977.

The show was met with great success which encouraged the founders to plan a production for the following year and so began the writing trend that has lasted until the present day.

When Jenny’s husband Byron joined the amateur dramatics group, more than 20 years ago, she tagged along to help to make cups of tea.

A life-long passion for writing, they both used an opportunity to write a play about Robin Hood together,

“We enjoyed the collaboration so much.” she said.

Both went onto become the writing and directing team behind many of the group’s productions for many years but Jenny is the main writer of pantomimes now.

In 1998 the group moved to its current home St George’s Hall in Woodford Avenue, Gants Hill and changed its name to the Dragon Theatre Company.

The actors have put on musicals, full-length and one-act plays, pantomimes and have participated in drama festivals since 1984.

More than 80 awards have been won for all aspects of the craft such as acting, backstage teamwork, directing, stage presentation and writing.

The group’s resident playwrite Kathy Mead has won several notable awards for her playwriting skills.

In 2001 she received WhatsonStage’s, playwriting competition - the George Taylor Memorial Award - for “Reckoning” referred to by critics as an “intriguing” script that reveals family dynamics, unresolved feelings, hate and love.

Jenny, who also writes children’s books says what she most enjoys about the process of writing is coming up with an idea and developing characters who are then read and watched by others.

“They are my friends.” she says.

“If you have a passion to write, then write.

“We all think what is the point but always write what you want and enjoy it.”

The group’s next production is a Farndale comedy in April and in the a series of workshops for acting and stage craft will be held.

The show’s opening night is on Friday at St. George’s Hall in Woodford Avenue, Gants Hill. Further performances are on Saturday at 7.30pm with a matinee performance at 2.30pm.

New members are welcome, for further Jack and the Beanstalk dates and information visit dragontheatrecompany.com.


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