“Jack and the Beanstalk”
Written by Jonathan Harvey, with music and lyrics by George Stiles & Anthony Drewe
Fairy Liquid – Mel Giedroyc
Beastly Boris – Steve Furst
Mad Matty – Ashley Campbell
Jack – Helen Baker
Major Domo / Giant – Tony Jayawardena
King Norman the Nineteenth – Jack Chissick
Princess Melody – Alison Pargeter
Donna Marie – Shelley Williams
Dame Dolly Deluxe – Andy Gray
The Ensemble: Matthew Malthouse (Dance Captain), Lucy Anderson, Kevin Brewis, Tom Dwyer, Stuart Ellis, Michelle Francis, Brenda Moore & Ngo Omene Ngofa
The Band: Martin Robinson (Reed Chair), Ed Morris (Bass), Phil Hopkins (Drum Chair), Frank Dawkins (Guitar Chair)
Musical Direction by Andy Massey
Giles Havergal – Director
Gordon Millar – Producer
Kenny Miller – Designer
Oliver Fenwick – Lighting Designer
Geoffrey Garratt – Choreographer
Lee Evans & Steve Mayo – Sound Design
Jane Dickerson – Costume Supervisor
Reviewed by: Michael Darvell
Reviewed: 15 December, 2007
Venue: Barbican Theatre, London
The best pantomimes used to be staged in the West End, with the Palladium being the number one choice where, some fifty years ago you could have seen Norman Wisdom as Aladdin, with George Formby in “Dick Whittington” at the Palace, Janette Scott as Peter Pan at the Scala, Mandy Miller as Alice in Wonderland at the Chelsea Palace, and “Ali Baba” at the Players’ Theatre. Further out there was “Puss in Boots” at the Lyric Hammersmith, “Cinderella” at both Bromley and Richmond, “Mother Goose” at Watford, “Aladdin” at Wimbledon and “Goody Two Shoes” at Streatham Hill Theatre. This year there are pantos at Bromley, Catford, Hornchurch, Norwood, Richmond, Stratford East, Greenwich, Hackney, Wimbledon, and Brick Lane Music Hall. The nearest you’ll get to a West End panto is “Cinderella” at The Old Vic and “Jack and the Beanstalk” at the Barbican Theatre. If the West End cannot now afford pantomimes, local theatres thrive on them as the panto can sometimes be the only show that makes money all year.
The story of “Jack and the Beanstalk” dates from the beginning of the nineteenth-century, although the version most used is from Joseph Jacobs’s “English Fairy Tales” published in 1890. Like many other fairy-tales it has survived to this day and is still as popular as ever at Christmas. It is the fantasy elements of a giant and a huge beanstalk, a hen that lays golden eggs, a harp that can sing, and the magic beans that still appeal to audiences. They can identify with Jack who can’t wait to scale the beanstalk that has grown in his garden overnight. However, there are also psychological explanations, if you read Bruno Bettelheim’s Freudian analysis in his book “The Uses of Enchantment” which offers the beanstalk as a phallic symbol and Jack as an adolescent seeking sexual maturity. Like many of these stories, “Jack” has been taken up by other art forms. Roald Dahl based his “BFG” on this tale, and there have been film versions starring Abbott and Costello, Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, among others.
The Barbican adaptation comes with excellent credentials. Writer Jonathan Harvey has had plays at the Royal Court and the National Theatre, wrote the play and film of “Beautiful Thing” (about gay teen life in Thamesmead) and is on the writing teams of “Coronation Street” (he does the gay episodes), “Gimme Gimme” and “The Catherine Tate Show”. Songwriters George Stiles and Anthony Drewe have contributed to the stage shows of “Mary Poppins”, “Honk!”, “Peter Pan”, “Just So”, et al. Director Giles Havergal has a great reputation as the former Director of the Glasgow Citizens’ Theatre.
However, between them they have managed to produce rather a dull show. It’s not bad but then it’s not very good either. It needs an injection of both camp and wit to kick-start it into life. In its present form it could not be favourably compared with Stephen Fry’s script for “Cinderella” at the Old Vic. It is surprising that the writer of “Gimme Gimme” and “Beautiful Thing”, not to mention the “Coronation Street” scripts for Sean and his boyfriend has produced something so devoid of camp. In the words of one of the songs, this is bog-standard stuff rarely rising above the level of a local provincial panto.
That said, it has to be admitted that the children seemed to enjoy the show, because it’s live, has colourful sets and costumes, and it lets them scream out at the performers. Mel Giedroyc (of TV’s Mel and Sue fame) as Fairy Liquid had a bit of a tough time while flying on and off, as the script doesn’t give her much help. Andy Gray’s Scottish dame was from the old-school of panto – but, again, not with any great jokes to help him along. Steve Furst as Beastly Boris doesn’t quite make the grade as a truly nasty villain as he is simply not scary enough. Helen Baker as Jack, however, is a good principal boy and can slap a thigh with the best of them, but Ashley Campbell’s Mad Matty hardly registers at all. Jack Chissick as the buffoonish King Norman has his good moments but, like most of the show, there are just aren’t enough of them.
- Jack and the Beanstalk is at the Barbican Theatre until 12 January 2008
- Tickets on 0845 120 7550