Writer: Christopher Jones
Director: John Garfield-Roberts
The entrance hall to the Hope Street Theatre abounds with Christmas magic to welcome little ones and grown-ups alike – sparkly decorations, a giant’s chair, a golden harp and tuck shop greet visitors to the venue. The kaleidoscopic feast for the eyes continues into the theatre itself with the stage area, usually black and boxy, transformed into a fairy-tale pop-up book.
The Hope Street Theatre puts on a pantomime every year with professional performers, and Just Entertainment Ltd have returned to this intimate space after their success with Sleeping Beauty in 2021.
A well-known tale, Jack and the Beanstalk takes all the traditional panto elements and is given a Liverpudlian twist. Jack lives with his mum, Dame Trott, brother Silly Simon and Cilla the Cow. He’s also got a girlfriend, Jill (A lovely debut performance by Alice Carlile). Despite Dame Trott’s endeavours to earn money for her family, including running the local school, she’s unable to stump up the rent for her landlord, the menacing Scouse giant. To make ends meet, they decide to sell Cilla, however, the transaction doesn’t quite go to plan. Jack not only loses the cow but his girlfriend too. With no cow to milk and only a tin of beans to survive on, the Trott family are left desperate. Mother Nature ( A strong performance from Lesley Butler) comes to the rescue so Jack can confront the giant and win back both Jill and Cilla the Cow.
The night is a fast-paced medley of musical acts, slapstick humour, dance sequences, tongue twisters and risqué puns for the grownups. A particular highlight is the Twelve Days of Christmas, with “nine smelly socks” and “five toilet rolls” being some standout lyrics.
As expected, visual comedy takes centre stage: especially funny moments include a tipping-over bench in the school scene, and Jack’s “Apple Watch” leading into a musical montage of miming and dancing. Audience interaction is paramount to any panto, and there is a moment when Dame Trott gives a few shout-outs to audience members – a lovely touch.
A bright and colourful lighting design adds to the drama and fun in equal measure. The set is simply magical, with child-like illustrations adorning the backdrop, floor and side panels. The performers rely heavily on the sound effects, which are on point from start to finish.
Local celebrity Billy Butler offers signature Scouse credentials as the voice of the giant, while Joe Owens lights up the stage as Jack with his lively emoji-style facial expressions and his effortless physicality. Director John Garfield-Roberts steals the show as Dame Trott while Dean Raymond comes into his own as Silly Simon, who simply belongs on children’s TV and there are plenty of moments to boo a larger-than-life villain in the shape of Phil Perez’s Fleshcreep.
The show has a large ensemble of dancers from primary school age to young adults – all from Performers Theatre School. The dancing sequences serve to break up the scenes and the young performers had an infectious enthusiasm that must be inspiring to young audience members.
There is a sense that no barrier exists between those on stage and off, as the characters even address the technical team during the show. The intimacy of the venue means performers can engage with the entire audience – something that would be a struggle in mainstream theatres.
This is a high-octane extravaganza full of incredible energy and friendly warmth. You feel truly invited into an intimate circle of best friends whatever your age. This reviewer set out to be neutral and po-faced and ended up failing miserably.
Runs until Saturday 31 December 2022