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Friday 7th December 2007
Christmas Theatre Review | JACK AND THE BEANSTALK | Barbican Theatre

Production: Jack and the Beanstalk
Book: Jonathan Harvey
Words & Music: George Stiles & Anthony Drewe
Producer: Barbican Theatre, Gordon Miller
Venue: Barbican Theatre
Address: Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS
Box Office: +44 (0)845 120 7550
Dates: 1 December 2007 - 12 January 2008
Opened: 6 December 2007
Buy Theatre Tickets from Ticketmaster
Reviewed by Howard Loxton

No pop singers, no pop songs, no reality show contestants, no soap stars (though a couple of faces known from television), not even a speciality act this is traditional panto as it used to be. It is a piece of straightforward storytelling with audience involvement, a Principal Boy, a Dame and plenty of Fee, Fie, Foe, Fum. (You know what that rhymes with don't you. It is a rhyme the script doesn't give the Giant, but the audience get to do a great rear wiggle in the participation song, which is kept to just before the walk-down).

Kenny Miller has set the show in stepped back blue frames picked out with lamps. There's a blue drop with a central star for Fairy Liquid to sparkle in and some boldly elegant cloths. The beanstalk grows, of course, but there are no spectacular transformation scenes. With a fast pace, lively choreography and plenty of colour and glitter, I didn't miss them, though I would have liked a revival of another of those traditional special effects scenes like the wave-washed cabin of last year's Dick Whittington at this address. What we do get is a couple of ultra-violet-lit puppet sequences, one with giant spiders and dinosaurs which are more effective than the effect which lets us see the Giant.

The writer risks some nasty headlines on reviews by making the scene 'A Bog-Standard Town' and making it a 'number', but there's nothing bog-standard about this show except the smell of some of the jokes and they fit the young audience's sense of humour. The jokes sadly steer clear of politics and social satire, too often relying on television programmes for commonly comprehended referencing I do hope the theatre is getting paid for the product references but they get their laughs so it is churlish of me to complain.

Mel Giedroyc is not, perhaps, the first person you expect to see as a flying fairy but with a stiff wig, fluttery feet and plenty of silvery shimmer, she turns up just when needed. Steve Furst makes Beastly Boris, the Giant's henchman, a camply nasty baddie, complicit with the audience in pretending that he's wicked. Helen Baker's long-limbed Jack and Alison Pargeter's Princess Melody are well matched, and it is very brave to risk giving both Shelley Williams' flirty Lady-in-Waiting and the Princess some funny laughs the Princess's come with a tinkle.

Norman XIXth may be the king but, played by Jack Chissick, he's a funny little fellow, towered over by his Major Domo (Tony Jayawardena, who doubles as the Giant). He's also towered over and intimidated by the experienced Dame. Director Giles Havergal obviously knows Andy Gray's work in Scotland. Playing Dolly Deluxe comes like second nature to him; he milks audience reaction on automatic. Dolly's cow Daisy doesn't get a credit in the cast list but with her droopy head when doleful and her nimble hoofing she is decidedly gold top.

The ensemble dances the lively choreography with spirit, led much of the time by Ashley Campbell's Mad Matty (Jack's brother, the 'Buttons' role) who is no side-kick but the energy on which this panto seems to run. His is a performance of non-stop vitality that is show business personified.

This is not the biggest and most lavish of pantos; the Barbican is out to entertain rather than club the audience with effects but I enjoyed it, even though I didn't catch any sweeties! My first panto of the season, it made an excellent beginning. If the remaining pantos of this year are as good, I won't be disappointed.

Howard Loxton 2007

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