Jack and the Beanstalk

Reviewer's rating

The tradition of the Christmas Pantomime put on by your local theatre shines brightly in Oxford at the Oxford Playhouse once again. The new Jack and the Beanstalk show is as inventive, silly, over-the-top and “camp” as it should be and the audience at the opening night was at least 50 % young people enjoying a quirky evening of live theatre along with some clearly captivated grown ups.

The adolescents and teens who made up quite a sizeable proportion of the audience were having just as fine a time as the youngest members of the audience and quite a few people sang along with the well-selected hits that were distributed throughout the show.

All the performances were enjoyable. As well as professionals, there were some young “apprentice” performers who fitted in seamlessly into a very well-knit ensemble performance.

The traditional “Jack and the Beanstalk” story in this version is stood on its hind legs with the wonderfully costumed human-sized giant, whose face was very handsome and appealing. When he finally appears in Act Two this giant turns out to be something of a climate change activist, among other things! Never mind about his relationship to the villain, who somewhat dominates the first act – you’ll find out about that when you see the show. The revelation about the true nature of the giant is one of the salient and delightful twists in this energetic pantomime.

Jack is a full-on charmer, played by Max Guest, who interprets him as the traditional appealing innocent; and his Jill, his love, and a part time sleuth, is the delightful Dumile Sibanda. One of the striking pleasures of the show is the disparity in size between them. The Dame, Mary, who is the mother of Jack and a feisty sister named Susan (played by Heather Porte with tremendous energy), is given a standout performance by Alasdair Buchan. Robin Hemmings, in several wigs, is a delightful villain, Hendrix the Horrible. He sings, he dances and he does dastardly deeds.  The role of Fairy Foxglove is something of a show stealer as played by Madison Swan.

There’s some very good music and the musical theatre element is well done. The dancing and movement, led by Mared Lewis and Harry Jack, is well choreographed and very watchable throughout the evening. I must praise the extremely fine musicians and the composer and arranger Steve Allan jones.

Jack Counsel’s concept and script are easy to follow, cleverly referential to the original fairy tale, and just slightly off the beaten path enough to be really interesting, while being witty and full of sly jokes and references that will appeal to every age represented in the audience. The show is directed by Toby Hulse with a great sense of Pantomime tropes and traditions and a firm sense of theatre that knows how to engage an audience and get them to participate. In these difficult times, this is a lovely evening of stylised performing and undemanding fun that is very entertaining indeed.