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Jack and the Beanstalk (Hornchurch, Queen's Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Children and adults alike know the story back to front and inside out. The trick for anyone writing a new pantomime script for a popular, not to say favourite, legend is to keep the familiar but dust just the right amount of fresh magic onto it to ensure that attention stays firmly fixed on the action and the characters. Nicholas Pegg's 13th pantomime for the Queen's Theatre succeeds in this admirably.

He's helped by Carol Sloman's catchy score, which is lyrical at just the right moments – the Jack and Jill duet and the slow-building ensemble which starts with a solo voice and builds to a quintet and then full chorus – and some glitteringly imaginative sets and costumes by Mark Walters. The cast throws itself wholeheartedly into the magical world prefigured by puppets showing us the back story while a kindly old woman tells us how the giant came by his ill-gotten gains and at what personal cost to her.

Alison Harding doubles this character with Giant Thunderskull's hard-done-by wife. Hard-done-by might also describe the widowed Dame Trott (Simon Jessop in a succession of fantastic outfits and even more incredible wigs). Alison Thea-Skot is our hero and pulls off the (for an endangered species) the difficult double-act of being a thigh-slapping and thoroughly traditional principal boy in the 21st century.

Fleshcreep is the grasping landlord and giant's henchman we all love to boo and hiss. James Earl Adair wears his livid green and black with panache, with a resemblance to the famous engraving of the Gunpowder Plotters in both make-up and costume style. Malcolm Ransom has choreographed a good duel with Jack in the second-act scene set in the giant's kitchen where the combatants wield outsized kitchen implements. Natasha Moore makes a charming heroine, a proper match for Jack.

Buttercup the cow, the giant and Minerva the golden-egg laying hen are subsumed in Billy Irving and Samuel Ward-Smith. Sean Needham (in fine voice) plays Mr Bumble, Jill's over-protective father; director Matt Devitt allows him to be something more than a mere fall-guy, though he takes many a tumble in the paper-hanging scene with Mark Newnham's Simple Simon. Greg Last, Chris Reid and Nick Sayce do sterling work in the pit.


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