Writers: Jude Christian and Sonia Jalaly
Director: Nicholai La Barrie
The panto at the Hammersmith Lyric Theatre is always relatively site specific and this year the people of the borough are invited to fight corruption and inequality through Jude Christian and Sonia Jalaly’s production of Jack and the Beanstalk. A tale with relatively little plot, there is by necessarily a lot of filler in this 2-hour show including interval, although with its broad appeal and bright colour scheme, young members of the audience are less likely to notice some loose ends.
Threatened with the loss of their dairy, Dame Trott, daughter Jack and son Simon must find a way to pay tax to local villain Fleshcreep or he’ll unleash his sky-based giant. With few options, daughter Jack agrees to sell their prized cow but is tricked into exchanging her for only a tin of beans. Can magical fairy friend Jill give Jack a hand or will the giant eat them all?
Nicholai La Barrie’s production for the Lyric has spent all of its panto budget on vivid hued costumes, particularly for Emmanuel Akwafo’s Dame Trott who appears in some stunners, as well as big set piece locations including the vivid backdrop of the dairy, a climbable beanstalk, a comedy milking machine prop and, eventually, Fleshcreep’s aerial lair – a toy factory meets warehouse filled with gold that seems inspired by the workshop production from Santa Claus the Movie. It generates lots of big dramatic events that carry the story along and immerses the children in this cartoon world that largely holds their attention.
But it is a long show, particularly the hour or so first part which covers very little of Jack’s traditional story and instead has a number of digressions including several segments dedicated to ‘The Simon Show’ in which the character bemoans being the neglected child next to the favoured Jack and tries to grab a few minutes alone with the audience. But instead of using these to explore his issues and eventual purpose in the story, there is an elongated escapology routine that adds little, while the emotional subplot about his position in the family is left unresolved. The younger audience members don’t notice of course but it is a concept that doesn’t develop.
Likewise, there is considerable moral ambiguity in the character of Jack herself who is determined to be a lone hero, jettisoning help from her friends but gets distracted by Fleshcreep’s gold reserves. There are various conversations about stealing and even a falling out with best friend Jill over Jack’s greed, but it all comes to nothing with everyone too easily reconciled without addressing this rather unheroic trait in Jack’s personality. Again, the children may not reconcile this, but so openly coveting and taking gold objects without remorse is perhaps not the best moral message to promote.
There are some lovely performances from Jodie Jacobs’ Fleshcreep, an enjoyable villain, Akwafo’s Dame Trott, Leah St Luce as Jack, Maddison Bulleyment as Jill and Finlay McGuigan as Simon who all rouse the crowd. And Jack the Beanstalk also contains all of the traditional panto requirements – singalongs, ‘it’s behind you’ and ‘oh no it isn’t’ gags, audience participation, musical numbers to ‘modern’ pop songs including Red Red Wine and I Will Always Love You, and new songs that reflect the rap and RnB influence of Hammersmith’s local community. Nonetheless Jack’s slightly overgrown beanstalk needs a little pruning.
Runs until 7 January 2023