Writer: Andrew Pollard
Director: Chris Cuming
Audiences have braved the cold and the skating rink streets to take their seats once again at the Norwich Theatre Royal for this year’s pantomime: Jack and the Beanstalk, and as it turns out it was well worth risking a fall or two to get there. This show is an evolution of the classic panto, with all the classic elements audiences love, while containing at its soul make points that matter. Alongside the puns and the songs, there are narratives about the wisdom of the young, of women holding one another up, and that it’s okay to not be okay.
The show opens on to the town of Norwich, complete with olde worlde versions of local stores and a town square that is soon filled with a colourful ensemble. From the opening number it is clear that the music has taken a step up, with a combination of original songs and classics with some tweaked lyrics they are each an integral part of their scenes without overtaking them. The reworking of Bohemian Rhapsody with a self-aware Joe Tracini providing occasional commentary in between trying to climb a beanstalk is one of the highlights of the show.
This year’s show has an excellent cast, with everyone taking the opportunity to show their comedy chops throughout. Sally Hodgkiss (Princess Jill) and Amanda Henderson (Pat the Cow) prove to be an excellent double act during their jailhouse duet performance, Linda John-Pierre (Fairy Fullobeans) brings both some excellent vocals and an utterly infectious laugh. The duo of Richard Gauntlett (Dame Trott) and Rufus Hound (King Nigel) provide the night with easily the best costumes and certainly the cheesiest of puns (you could say it was very gouda, perhaps even brie-liant. Sorry).
Joe Tracini finally takes centre stage as the panto’s leading man after several years with the Norwich panto cast, and it proves to be a perfect casting. He is genuinely funny throughout and it proves impossible to tell how much he is adlibbing and how much is planned in the vast majority of his scenes, to the point that a couple of his lines are lost in the up uproarious laughs from the audience.
An important message throughout the show, which is repeated by Jack but never laboured, is that it’s okay to be scared and it’s okay to not be okay because you’re here and you’re loved. The lines, delivered to the outstanding young performers of Iris Harker-Smith and Danny Gooda, never end a scene, nor does the performance pause to highlight their significance but they are there, they are heard, and they are important.
It is becoming the most wonderful tradition that Joe Tracini takes to the stage with his ukulele and makes several members of the audience (including this reviewer) cry. This year, we found ourselves at the end of the show, with the giant bested and the townspeople saved, with a man on stage singing a quiet song about how things can get better and it was hopeful, and beautiful.
Jack and the Beanstalk is, at its core, a story which shows us the power we find in our friends and that it’s okay to ask them for help. That moral just happens to be wrapped in the most delightful rainbow of glitter, giant props, and sequins. The show leaves everyone with a sense of joy and that things will be okay; some might say that’s claiming a lot for what is really just a panto, but after all big things can come from something small…
Runs Until: 7 January 2023