Jack and the Beanstalk – Panto at Zinc

By Wendy Pike

It’s uplifting and lively.  It’s fun and very funny.  If you haven’t joined in a chorus of The Ongar Mash then you haven’t yet seen this year’s spectacular panto at Zinc, Jack and the Beanstalk.  And you’re missing out.

What a brilliant show.  The cast, predominantly children from Stage One Theatre School, perform their hearts out with such energy and focus, you have to remind yourself they’re students albeit with oodles of talent for acting, singing and dancing, executed with complete professionalism.

Filling the stage with a selection of giant, OTT frocks, large enough to deserve their own postcode, a ginormous chest and mammoth personality, the lead, panto dame, Madame Mayo, is at the heart of the action as Jack’s Mum.  The role is played exuberantly by professional West End actor Mario Frendo.

Madame Mayo’s deep apron pockets are filled with a plentiful supply of sweets which are generously distributed to children in the audience.  Be ready:  there is lots of audience participation. Good-humoured banter and leg-pulling too, especially for those sitting at the front.

Other professional cast members include Laura Barritt, who is usually Fairy Sparkle, but on Saturday played a splendid Jack.  An energetic Jill was played by Emily Wershof and an equally effervescent Red Riding Hood by Shelly Payne.

Jack's Beanstalk

Also, Barron Von Greedy, played by Haydn James, was such a convincing evil henchman, he was heartily booed at his every appearance, without need of encouragement.  Despite being a baddie – and he did look very fetching in his purple suit – he was incredibly polite, thanking the audience for bestowing boos and hisses.

Fairy Sparkle’s glitzy assortment of attire shimmers as keenly as any spangly costumes on Strictly Come Dancing, all set off by an impressively towering, bright pink, beehive hairdo.  Played on Saturday night by Beth Snook, who usually plays Jack, this character is charmingly ditzy and ever so slightly bungling, explaining some initial reluctance to use her magic.

The creative, fast-paced, contemporary choreography is mesmerising, performed by Stage One’s Green Cast on Saturday with unfailing precision and energy.  All stars in the making, they look like they’re having a ball too.  With so many performances, another team of students, Red Cast, shares the workload on other nights.   Jack’s brother Simon is played brilliantly by Green Cast’s Sammy Miller and the cook, equally so, by Emily Stroker.   Check out the coolest of little dudes in the Michael Jackson sequence.  His moonwalking moves are amazing.

The set design, lighting, audio and colourful, creative costumes are all first class.  Add to that the relaxed, cosy theatre with its raked seating and great facilities in which enjoy pre-show, post-show and interval refreshments and what do you have?  A winning formula for a great, West End-style experience right on your doorstep in Ongar.


The show is peppered with humour, cleverly written to include suitable comedy to engage and appeal across the generations.  Witty one liners, visual gags and some clever jokes for the grown ups keep the audience laughing throughout.

As you would expect there are magic beans, a fabulous pantomime cow, Buttercup, and a golden goose.  A giant beanstalk of course.  Not forgetting the the fearsome giant in the clouds, his scary presence created by a booming voice.  The X-Factor announcer blended with Brian Blessed.

Set in Ongar Marsh and narrated by Red Riding Hood, the plot’s twists and turns take the audience on a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. In between there is an amusing chase scene as the drama builds.  But in true panto tradition, good triumphs over evil.  In the end Jack gets his Jill and Madame Mayo discovers the baddie, Barron Von Greedy, isn’t entirely bad which puts him on a very short shortlist as potential marriage material.

Be prepared to boo, shout and sing as well as clap until you cannot feel your hands.  And LOL (laugh out loud).  Literally.  A lot.  Madame Mayo’s twerking routine is one hysterical highlight of many.  A joy to watch.

If you find yourself, or someone you know, with a touch of the Ebenezers or Grinches this Christmas, there is a speedy cure.  Take yourselves off to Zinc’s panto and festive spirit will soon be restored.  It’s an absolute tonic.

© Wendy Pike (December 2016)

(this review feature was previously published in The Brentwood Gazette)


Zinc believes in empowerment. The charity works in the local community and nationally, aiming to inspire people through the arts and education, raise aspirations and develop and promote new talent. Zinc believes that providing opportunities for everyone, regardless of background, to discover and fulfil their potential will lead to a more rounded, happy and inclusive society.


Forest School Fun With The Endeavour School

By Wendy Pike

Pupils in Drake class absolutely love Monday mornings.  It’s Forest School day.  Switching the classroom and formal lessons for structured activities and games in the woods, these Endeavour School pupils start their week, whatever the weather, at Forest School in nearby Thriftwood. Ask any one of them and they’ll tell you it’s enormous fun.

“Forest school is the best. We do fun activities. I like to cook marshmallows. We made a face out of leaves. I made a face sticking their tongue out,” said Chloe in Year 6.

Classmate Morgan said: “I like everything about forest school. I like drinking hot chocolate and when we play a game, Deer and Wolves.”

Among the subjects chosen by pupils for their woodland leaf-art creations were numerous rabbits, a disco ball and an angry man. Star Wars characters Darth Vader and Luke Sywalker made an appearance too.

“They’re learning about team working. We’ve done art without them realising and there’s been lots of conversation and social interaction, which is really nice,” said class teacher Miss Jodie Messenger.

Anthony Hattam, Deputy Headteacher believes Forest School has much to offer.

“The children can run though the woods. They’re not in any danger, they’re completely safe.

“It’s just a great experience for them all rather than sitting at a desk all day long and I think they learn just as much by these experiences.”

Forest School - fun learning through play and exercise

Woodland adventures

Who wouldn’t want to start the week with a walk in the woods, playing games, enjoying the fresh air? But isn’t Forest School just simply playtime?

“They love being outside and just playing. That’s what they see it as. But outside, they don’t realise they are actually learning.

“In the classroom they can feel learning is quite forced whereas at Forest School, Mr Jackson’s here as well and I’m not the teacher, so we get a different relationship,” said Miss Jodie Messenger, Drake class teacher.

Leading Drake class’ Forest School adventure is former primary school teacher of 25 years John Jackson of Billericay Bushcraft.

“It’s more than playing because they’re learning all the time.

“They’re learning about different animals and how to interact with nature but also loads of scientific evidence proves that being outside in green areas like the woods is really good for your mental health,” said John, also known as Grizzly.

Everyone has adopted a Forest School name. On Mondays the Drake class register reads duck, eagle, snake and tiger, to name a few.

Serpent aka Vinnie said: “I kinda like the creatures around here and how we can do stuff in the forest.”

Joyful shouts, chatter and laughter. Rustling leaves and twigs snapping underfoot. These noises contribute to the forest soundtrack of the children playing a game.

“They’re learning hiding and camouflage techniques and teamwork but they’re learning all sorts of stuff about how animals would interact in the wild.

“We link a lot of the games to animals. We play a game like rock paper scissors but it’s called Salmon, Fly, Mosquito, so they learn about what eats what in the food chain. It gives them a bit more of an experience than just playing a game,” said Grizzly (aka John).

“When they first come into the woods, they go off to their own quiet spot and actually listen. They’re properly engaging with their senses – smells, sights sounds, feeling the wood, how different it feels. They all come back and share what they’ve done.

“It helps them to understand the seasons,” said learning support assistant Tansy ‘Tawny Owl’ Cook.

Grizzly added: “As the spring comes we’ll be looking at plants growing up and maybe find some edible plants which we’ll teach them about. As we get into the start of summer we’ll be looking at the bugs and animals that are around.”

Forest School & wonders of the natural world

The great outdoors

As well as learning about the natural world and keeping fit, what do the children get out of Forest School? Well they’re building confidence and resilience, learning teamwork, social skills, communication, co-operation, practical bushcraft skills (the list goes on) … and the children have a great time.

“The biggest thing they’ll get from this is confidence because all the activities are designed to be small, simple, achievable. And they learn resilience.

“Sometimes they’ll find things hard. We need firewood, so we have to go out and find it. It isn’t just given to them like a lot of the stuff in the modern world is.

“So they found sawing the wood quite tricky to start with but then they have to apply themselves and learn it. Nothing’s too difficult but a lot of things won’t be easy to do straight away. If they fail in the forest, what does it matter? Try again next time,” added Grizzly.

“A lot of the children just cannot do this where there live. Some don’t have access to country parks and woods.

“I think it’s great. I think all schools should be able to have the freedom and luxury to be able to do this,” added Mr Hattam.

Chloe ‘caterpillar’ concluded: “This is the best day of my life and there’s hot chocolate!”

For Ride class, Monday afternoons, when it’s their turn to enjoy Forest School, are the best.

© Wendy Pike November 2016

This feature was previously published in The Brentwood Gazette.

The Endeavour School Brentwood www.endeavour.essex.sch.uk


Version 2

A similar version of this story first appeared in Your Cat Magazine in January 2016 in the Reader’s Kitten of the Month spot.  Obviously, I ignored all good writing and journalism advice,  which is never write about your pets.  But I’m so thrilled with our new family member and just want to share the love.  

by Wendy Pike (Twitter:  @newswoozle)



If it dangles or jangles – attack.  If it wriggles or rolls – pounce.  If it’s abandoned and portable – eat it.  Or attempt to.

This is the waking modus operandi of Phoebe our fifteen-week-old kitten, a tabby and white / one eighth Bengal cross.

We’ve seen her stalking, striking and scoffing countless unlucky spiders, two crickets and several daddy-long-legs.  She’s only been exploring our garden over the last fortnight, following her inoculations.  Orchid roots (she foamed at the mouth), garden soil and cold tea, make up the growing list of inappropriate ‘treats’ Feebs is keenly helping herself to.

Her other mode is sleepy, drifting off in the most unlikely postures and places.   Although Phoebe has a cat bed, for night-time snoozing she finds curling up and cramming herself into a tiny space on the bookshelf, between camera bag and old singles records, preferable.  Daytime, she favours our woolly, fleece-clad rocking-chair, sofa or a dining chair tucked under the table.

‘Be More Dog’ she needn’t be.  Feebs is sufficiently ‘canine’, following us around, digging holes in flowerbeds and begging for whatever we’re eating, despite a constant smorgasbord of available kitty food.  She even sort-of plays fetch, retrieving toys, parading them in her mouth, occasionally, bringing them back to be thrown again.  And she’s fixated and fascinated by water.

Generous with her kisses, she has gorgeous brown eyes and when she looks at you, peers straight into your soul.  It feels like a human response not a feline one.  A cat lurks in there somewhere though.  Uniquely beguiling, inquisitive, effervescent – the adorable rascal she is  – our kitten Feebs.

Copyright Wendy Pike 2016, www.newswoozle.co.uk

This pub review first appeared on the Brentwood Brewery Blog as the brewery’s February Pub of the Month and a version also appeared on the brewery’s Community News page in the Brentwood Gazette at the end of January.

If you enjoy ‘proper’ food and beer, you’ll want to read on:

The Hutton Junction, Shenfield by Wendy Pike (Twitter @newswoozle)

Hutton Junction 2015 (1)

With St Valentine’s and Leap Year Days approaching, thoughts will be turning to romance and love throughout February.

Publicans of The Hutton Junction, Len and Lyn Mitchell, celebrated their Ruby Wedding Anniversary last year. So the brewery feels its Pub of the Month is a particularly fitting choice this month. Albeit rather belatedly, Brentwood Brewery sends Len and Lyn their anniversary congratulations.

Forty years ago Len and Lyn Mitchell formed a dynamic partnership when they married at St Mary’s Church in Little Burstead.

As landlord and landlady of the Hutton Junction at Shenfield , this hard-working duo has spent plenty of time in the workplace together too. They’ve been publicans for 11 years, previously running The Green Man in Herongate and The Layer Fox at Layer de la Haye near Colchester.

Do they have any tips for relationship success?

“There has to be give and take.

“From the moment you get married, you have to start making it work,” said Lyn.

It seems the ‘making it work’ mantra, combined with a firm work ethic, is something they also apply to their business as the couple does not take time out for holidays.

“We are what a traditional pub used to be. All our food – from pies, puddings, desserts and to burgers, soups and sauces are all made in the pub. We have five real ales on which we change routinely.

“Our head chef of six years, David White, is constantly creating and updating our seasonal menu to keep it fresh and interesting,” said Lyn.

At least one Brentwood Beer features in the real ale line up on the bar.

Whether it’s a swift lunchtime visit for homemade soup at £4.35 or celebrating a special occasion with a Peppered Sirloin Steak with Onion Rings, Chips, Peas, Mushrooms and Tomatoes at £17.40, The Hutton Junction is bound to tempt you with its impressively varied menu.

Specials are really something … rather special. Check out the chalkboard. They can include Dover sole at £22.50 or sometimes Venison Sausages (venison is locally sourced from Blackmore). Swordfish or Trout too.

If in a rush (some local workers phone their orders ahead to maximise lunch-break time) sandwiches and jacket potatoes are available.

Traditional favourites like Steak and Kidney or Steak and Ale Pie cost £11.95 with seasonal vegetables and choice of potatoes. What you may not realise is, those seasonal vegetables, like runner beans, courgettes or marrows, were probably organically grown in Len and Lyn’s garden at home.

“One year we had so many cucumbers I was giving them away to customers,” said Lyn.

Hutton Junction 2015 (2)

Reigning supreme in the Brentwood in Bloom competition recently (winner six years running), the gorgeous pub garden, which boasts spectacular grapevines, is planted and tended by Len and Lyn with help from eldest son David. So which of them has the greenest fingers? “Me!” That is according to Lyn, taking the credit. On the other gardening-gloved hand, Len might give a different answer. But that’s give and take.

Hutton Junction 2015 (4)

Beer and Food Match suggestion:

Lumberjack with Lumberjack Sausage Cobbler at The Hutton Junction - Copy

Sausage Cobbler made with Lumberjack Beer & Lumberjack 5.2% ABV

Head chef David White has created a tasty, warming Sausage Cobbler using sausages from Oliver’s Butchers marinated in Brentwood Brewery’s Lumberjack beer. When available, it’s on the specials board, costing £10.75. Whilst The Hutton Junction hopes you’ll visit the pub to enjoy David’s special dish, they are kindly sharing the recipe which is available on the Brewery Blog (www.brentwoodbrewing.co.uk).

The Hutton Junction

Rayleigh Road, Hutton, CM13 1AB

01277 215 240

Pub opens:   noon – 11pm Mon – Thur, noon – 11.30pm Fri & Sat and noon – 10.30pm Sun.

Pub kitchen opens: noon – 9pm Mon – Sat and noon – 7pm Sun.

Oliver’s Butchers, 01277 224 533, 212 Rayleigh Road, Hutton www.oliversbutchers.co.uk


words and photographs copyright 2016 Wendy Pike, www.newswoozle.co.uk