Pantomimes always tread a fine line between entertaining the children who make up the bulk of their audience and playing up to the grown-ups who pay for the tickets. Sadly, this production of Jack and the Beanstalk takes a firm pace in the wrong direction and comes down firmly on the side of the crude and the downright vulgar.
Paul Zerdin, aided and abetted by his dummy Sam, is Jack in this his 15th panto and you would be hard pressed at times to spot which was the more wooden. Suffice it to say that when Sam sang solo in the second act his was more effective and tuneful than Zerdin’s own voice.
It may be tempting for the performers to believe that adult humour soars above the heads of the kids but you gauge the effect in the restiveness of the children and when they are too busy talking to their adult companions you know they are not being engaged as they should be by what is happening on stage. This production drops the traditional opportunity to bring the youngsters on stage before the walkdown, substituting an adult instead for ritual humiliation. Fair enough, I guess, but you don’t expect the leading character in a children’s’ show to ask the audience member if he was “going to beat the c**p out of him?” and to make outdated jokes about homosexuality in front of a family audience.
Nigel Havers takes a break from his usual line in smoothies and cads to play Fleshcreep the Giant’s sidekick and clearly enjoys himself playing a baddie for a change but lacks focus and has a dire script to work with which, again, has dialogue that misses the children by a mile.
Andrew Ryan saves the day as wonderfully grotesque Dame Trot with a stunning series of costumes, all of which he makes himself. This show only truly comes alive when he’s on the boards and his verve and passion for the part mark him out as the true star of this vehicle for a vent.
Full marks too to the effects team for coming up with a truly scary and genuinely enormous giant although sadly too many other events on stage relied on the rather cheap device of turning out all the lights on the stage for five seconds.
Emma Cannon as Mother Nature, this production’s fairy queen, also deserves a special mention although her vocal skills came close to being mangled by the harsh and tinny sound balance which made this show an uncomfortable listen at times.
Oh, and this production also “featured” Churchill the Dog from the insurance company TV commercials. Was this a major theatrical coup? “Ah yes” we were told. Was his presence worked into the script in any kind of meaningful way? “Ah no.” Was his being there mercifully brief, confusing and pointless? “Ah yes”.