They say all the world’s a stage but it is his humble hometown of Barnsley which keeps setting the scene as the most prominent backdrop in Jack Land Noble’s productions.
Billed as an actor, writer, director, producer, singer and songwriter, it’s Jack by name, but most definitely not Jack-of-all-trades by nature. At just 30-years-old, Jack has remastered the golden era of slapstick comedy to bring theatre to life and life to the theatre.
As a writer, his raucous shows have a funny way of being serious, portraying South Yorkshire folk in all their satirical finery to entice people from varying backgrounds to appreciate the theatrical arts.
From working men’s club turns, to a miner-cum-erotic novelist, and even Berneslai’s own band of merry men, Jack’s work has covered all matter of subjects from the obscure to the absurd – all locally flavoured around Barnsley and South Yorkshire with an extra helping of comedy and tom foolery thrown in for good luck.
As a performer, there is no pretence or facade, with each show exposing a little bit more of his mind’s eye. Perfectly cast in the story of his life, Jack’s portrayal of himself is multi-faceted, switching between the jesting stooge, charismatic crooner and beloved pantomime dame.
But does life imitate art?
As we meet him at his second home, Barnsley’s Lamproom Theatre, his enigmatic character clothed in flat cap and tweed gives little away of his larger than life, on-stage persona – although the quips continue to roll off his tongue from under the handlebar moustache which he’s growing for an upcoming project.
There’s something to be said for people who can make you laugh without even trying.
Funny is in the writing, not the performing and Jack has that clever, sharp-witted humour which makes you wonder how great comedians think up their jokes.
But it is thanks to this small and intimate theatre here in Barnsley that Jack has been able to hone his craft and continue to write his clever adaptations of local life.
From first performing as a munchkin in the Wizard of Oz at its inception 20 years ago, Jack has since gone on to become a Lamproom trustee and stalwart performer.
His beloved Lamproom stage, on which he has become a crowd-pulling name for his gutsy gags and inimitable interpretations of South Yorkshire musings, has enabled him to keep taking risks with the shows he produces for the greatest reward – laughter.
“I feel blessed to have such a magnificent theatre on my doorstep which has given me such a strong platform to showcase my work and produce shows for the people of Barnsley.
“Our theatre goers don’t suffer fools gladly and most audiences at the Lamproom are looking for escapism and to be entertained so you have to capitalise on their reaction to stir up ideas for new shows.”
Fortunately for Jack, his risks have paid off and he headlines The Lamproom multiple times every year, fulfilling a dream he’s held since being a young lad.
You could say performing runs through his DNA.
His parents, railway administrator Tony and nursery nurse Betty, have moonlighted as cabaret act, Midnight Duo, for decades, working the northern clubland scene and once supporting Ken Dodd. Tony was also the former drummer for South Yorkshire legend, Paul Shane.
His grandfather, who he is named after, was the prolific wrestler, Jack Land AKA Karl Von Kramer, whose 40-year career in the ring saw him named one of Barnsley’s sporting heroes and a tag teammate of Kes actor, Brian Glover.
“I’ve always been ingrained in this world of weirdness. I was writing pantos at primary school and staging them in the school hall. But despite their own performing backgrounds, my parents never pushed me into it. I just loved the stage.”
Growing up in Stairfoot, Jack had his first taste of life on the stage aged five. A few years later, he started training with Barnsley College’s Electric Theatre every Saturday morning.
When the Lamproom opened in 1999, a ten-year-old Jack joined the youth theatre ensemble which he remained part of for six years.
His teens were also spent writing original plays inspired by the classic comedians he would watch with Grandad Jack.
“I had a great education and appreciation of comedy thanks to my grandad. Even as a child, I studied the likes of Eric Sykes rather than just watching them passively.”
After studying A Levels at Barnsley College, Jack went on to read Drama at Huddersfield University where he graduated with a first-class degree.
“When I first applied, my college drama tutor was adamant I should have been going to somewhere like RADA for better training. But when they researched the course’s credentials, they apologised. During my time there, Sir Patrick Stewart was chancellor so we had a few Shakespeare workshops with him.
“I’m a bit of a home bird so I chose Huddersfield over moving to London as I could commute easily enough. Plus, with Dad working on the railways I got free train travel which is a no-brainer for a student.”
While at university, Jack launched The Yorkshireman Company, the producing arm of his repertoire.
At just 21, he put on his first show called Grappling, a musical with muscle based loosely on the life of his wrestler grandfather. Jack Snr, who was 80 at the time, was drafted in to help choreograph the wrestling moves for the cast.
All subsequent productions have shared a common thread, knitting together the gritty and witty parts of Barnsley life.
“It sounds clichéd but I always try to write about what I know as I feel you produce something more genuine. Thankfully, the wells have yet to run dry but I keep chipping away at the weird and wonderful ideas that spring into my head,” Jack says.
Many of his shows are based around a matriarchal influence, such as the rude and crude Barnsley Belles about three women who want to escape the breadline at any cost, with plenty of dirty laundry to be aired. Thanks to its critical acclaim, this was later adapted into The Salford Belles as part of the Greater Manchester Fringe and played to sell-out houses at the Hope Mill Theatre.
Another show, The Widows Club, which is more OAP power than girl power, was recently revived for the Lamproom. A comedy which hits the heights and heartstrings, it originally formed part of Jack’s university dissertation and became a box-office sell out this September.
“I prefer working with women and not many male writers can write for the female voice. But I grew up around so many strong women such as my Nan, Mum and maternal aunts so I take a lot of inspiration from them.”
From grieving women to merry men, Jack’s says his most recent offering, an adult pantomime called Throbbin’ Hood, really did push the X-rated boundaries.
“It was true escapism and not for the easily offended but, ultimately, it was British variety at its best which went down a storm.”
While humour and horseplay embody Jack’s work, at the heart are also relatable topics that incite emotion, blurring the line between comedy and drama as in real life.
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike in 2014, Jack produced his favourite show to date, From Grimethorpe with Love. When Grimey pit closes, the protagonist, Jim Travis, decides to go 50 shades of coal and start writing erotic novels.
“It’s my favourite piece mainly due to the ending – a highly emotive rendering of the first chapter of Jim’s book – The Coal Miner’s Mistress – which he’s entered into a woman’s magazine short story competition. He’s reading it to his wife who’s just had her bunions off in hospital but what she doesn’t know is that he changed his entry before submitting it.
“It was moving to see grown men in the audience openly weep at what they were hearing.”
While all well-received by audiences, one production has proved so popular that Jack is currently working on a third instalment. Based around a Motown clubland act, The Booze Cruise, the latest show in The Booze Brothers saga, will see the Barton brothers leave Sodom Working Men’s Club behind for the high seas. How Jack will recreate the inside of a ‘luxury’ liner at The Lamproom is definitely not an opportunity to be missed.
For all his shows, Jack works with a tight unit of actors, most of whom are not professional – not that you’d know. Many just share a love and enthusiasm for theatre and Jack relishes the opportunity to help them build on their talents.
“I like writing for someone you know is going to play a character as you can hear their voice in your head.”
He has also written shows about the comedy heroes of his childhood, such as Les Dawson, Tommy Cooper and Hoyland’s first son of comedy, the levitating, optical illusionist and ventriloquist, Harry Worth.
He has even co-written this year’s pantomime for The Lamproom, which is Mother Goose.
While writing backstage is where he feels most at home, Jack has also become a seasoned performer who has taken the spotlight in many productions.
Since 2016, he has been a well-loved addition to the casting books at Qdos Entertainment, the world’s biggest pantomime producer.
Working alongside panto royalty such as Billy Pearce, Lesley Joseph and Duncan James from Blue, Jack has donned various wigs and heavy makeup to play Dame Betty Blumenthal in Snow White at Plymouth Theatre Royal, and Cinderella’s Ugly Sisters at Bradford Alhambra and Bromley Churchill Theatre.
“When I first auditioned, I didn’t know who I was auditioning in front of which is probably a good thing as I’d have been a lot more nervous. But I thought, ‘what have I got to lose?’
“I went in and said, ‘before we start, shall I just put this on now?’ And I pulled out an oversized padded tartan brassiere. The ice was broken and you could see the cogs of inspiration turning. They said I reminded them of someone from the ‘good old days’ of the business. It’s been a very fruitful relationship.”
This year, he is swapping his corset for a cassock as he takes on the role of Friar Tuck alongside dance troupe Diversity at the Southend Cliffs Pavilion run of Robin Hood.
Squeezing 40 performances into three weeks and spending Christmas away from family sure isn’t easy. But life isn’t such a drag; his parents will be joining him in Essex to spend Christmas Day together once they’ve finished performing their Christmas gigs in Manchester.
Alongside his panto performances, Jack is also a self-taught singer and regular collaborates with musician, composer and Lamproom musical director, Robert Cooper, to produce contemporary orchestral shows under the Coalfield Symphony banner. Together, they have released two EPs and given various live performances.
For country and western fans, Jack also performs as the Coalfield Cowboy which first began as a charity gig for the Teenage Cancer Trust some years ago.
As a man on many talents, Jack also writes his own music and tries to fuse original scores into his shows where possible.
“I prefer to write and direct but I’m often hoodwinked into performing and make a regular, if somewhat discreet, appearance in many of my shows. I chose theatre as I love the live audience, it’s quite a spiritual experience being in that moment in time with them.
“But be it 2,000 people at Bradford Alhambra or coming home to the intimacy of 200 people at The Lamproom, you just can’t beat the sound of laughter. It’s infectious.”