There’s no apparent reason why Jack and the Beanstalk, this year’s home-grown pantomime at the Theatre Royal shouldn’t work splendidly. It has a literate book (Daniel O’Brien), smart lyrics and new music (Annemarie Lewis Thomas) and visual cohesion. Yet that particular and so very necessary theatrical magic remains elusive.
We’re in the countryside, during King Arthur’s reign. The local bigwig is Brigadier Bombast(Anthony Renshaw), who lives up to his name. It’s not that he’s personally greedy; it’s just that the giant Gogmagog has a voracious appetite. Perdita (Joanna Kirkland) is Bombast’s daughter, yearned after by Jack Trott (Jonathan Eiø), who in turn is much admired by village lass Jill(Lotte Gilmore). Jack and Jill do indeed go up together, though of course it’s not a hill but a magic beanstalk (very well realised by designer Will Hargreaves.
And then there’s Dame Trott (Dennis Herdman) who is being forced to sell her last remaining possession – cow Daisy. It’s never easy being a pantomime animal, especially the sort which requires two actors, but Claire Baldry and Bobby Callahan do extremely well by this bovine. When Gogmagog himself appears in the second act, he’s suitably enormous and just sufficiently realistic to be frightening but not too terrifying.
That’s left to his green-haired henchman Fleshcreep (Paul L Martin). A very nasty piece of work indeed, much given to cloak-swishing as he attempts to restock his master’s larder. Attempting to thwart him is Fairy Liquid (Annie Wensak), a rather jolly-hockey-sticks sort of influence, much given to materialising in a cloud of soap bubbles.
The cast throw themselves into the goings-on with just the right degree of commitment and I liked the way that Jill accepts the loss of Jack and instead decides to travel the world with Daisy, much to Fairy Liquid’s approval. Herdman is obviously experienced at playing Dame and the inteplay with Eiø and Renshaw gelled, as did the dance antics. There’s perhaps too many words for very small children, especially in the first scene and some of the jokes go high over small heads. Abigail Anderson is a director with deserved acclaim for her productions at this theatre and elsewhere but here she seems to be lacking the requisite lightness of touch. It’s annoying, because it should have worked so much better.