It is a good and glorious thing that the Oxford Playhouse mounts a traditional pantomime each year. No celebrity names, no footballers, no failed reality stars – just professional performers working their socks off to entertain audiences over the festive period.
Once again Peter Duncan is at the helm as writer and director for this year’s offering - Jack and the Beanstalk. He brings all the expected elements to the stage – the good fairy and the villain, the song sheet, bad puns and fun musical numbers. Never afraid to bring a new twist to the story, the Giant is transformed into space monster. Being honest, this seems a rather unnecessary complication and certainly created confusion amongst some younger members of the audience.
The set and costumes are as bold and bright as you could ever want to see. Dame Trott (Alan French) is given a huge range of outrageous outfits which she exploits for maximum comic effect. The beanstalk is a splendid inflatable affair and good use is made of flying to allow the Jack and his family to make the journey up to the clouds.
Chris Carswell is a very personable Jack and has an excellent singing voice. He is somewhat overshadowed in the script by his brother Will (played with great energy by Matthew Fraser Holland). Jill Longshanks is played with sweetness and light by Laura Pitt-Pulford – well-matched vocally with her love interest – Jack.
This year – in order to get a better understanding of how younger audience members might react – I took my nephew (11) and niece (9) along. They enjoyed themselves up to a point but did not get as much from the experience as I had hoped. The jokes did not make them laugh out loud, the baddies did not scare them and they were amongst those who found the battle between Jack and the space-monster Giant completely baffling. I must admit to having enjoyed last year’s offering a lot more.
I love that the Playhouse continues to produce their own original pantomimes each year – long may that continue. Whilst this year’s offering is not quite up there for me, there is still plenty for families to enjoy and it does make a good way of introducing young audiences to the joys of theatre-going.