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Jack and the Beanstalk (Leeds)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Going toe-to-toe it looked like the theatrical mismatch of the year. The Playhouse's lavish juggernaut of a musical, Annie, running side-by-side with the theatre's other festive production Jack and the Beanstalk. In one corner, a huge cast, spectacular set-pieces and a bagful of much loved songs. In the other corner, line-dancing poultry. Literally a heavyweight versus bantamweight showdown. However, it turns out that Jack can more than punch his weight against the big hitter.

The first trick Mike Kenny pulls in his reimagining of the familiar tale is to reduce the role of Jack in favour of four all-singing, all-dancing chickens. As one of the chicks astutely points out, this show should really be called "The Chickens and The Beanstalk", as the story is told largely through their beady eyes. From the moment they wander through the audience, clucking, pecking and eating the children's sweets, they are engaging and entertaining hosts. They act both as protagonist and storyteller, narrating the action as it unfolds, a beak chorus if you will.

All the traditional elements of the story are present; magic beans, a bizarre world above the clouds and, of course, the giant. There are also other decidedly modern twists thrown in to the mix and a couple of truly delightful surprises. Although there are a few nods to the adults it doesn't pander to them, this show is aimed squarely at the kids. It's cheeky and cool with just a hint of a darker edge, although sometimes it's a little too laid-back for its own good, with occasional dips in momentum.

Individually the cast are superb, although there were a few timing issues when working as an ensemble. However they will undoubtedly tighten up as the run progresses and judging by the giddy post-show chatter and dancing from the smaller, and most important, members of the audience this wasn't a particular concern for them, which is all that matters.


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