Review: Jack and the Beanstalk (King's Theatre, Glasgow)
Elaine C Smith returns for this year's panto offering in Glasgow
It was at this address, and in this company, that I was partly cured of my panto allergy back in 2017. My rehab must be going better than I expected, because I enjoyed this show enormously and laughed a lot more than I expected to.
While the script is as creaky as an old door, every panto box is pretty well ticked here. And like all good pantos, this Jack and the Beanstalk is packed full of ultra-local references. It's set in Glas Vegas, Dame Trot works in the Irn Bru factory, and in their Govan advent calendar, named after a poorer neighbourhood, half the windows have been boarded up and all the chocolate has been stolen.
There's an affirming message at the show's heart that anyone can be a hero and – in its own MeToo moment – Princess Jill refuses to be married off to the man who kills the giant, so much so that in the end she chops down the beanstalk alongside Jack. Even panto moves with the times!
Director Jonny Bowles and his design team use short scenes to keep the kids' attention and stage each location with some very effective backdrops. There are jokes for adults as well and the punchlines consistently sit on just the right side of innuendo, nearly redeeming the second act's overlong sequence on song titles. Writer Alan McHugh keeps things moving and, rare for a panto in election season, it's pretty light on pokes at politicians, despite one reference to the WASPI women.
The special effects are unusually good with some real eye-poppers, including a convincing beanstalk, a really impressive giant and even a bizarre Miss Saigon moment as Dame Trot flies into the auditorium in a helicopter. James Dunsmore's musical direction helps too, getting in a range of references from Cher to Max Bygraves.
But the real reason the show works is because of the actors, who are naturals at this. Jonathan Watson's King struts around with lots of attitude and Anne Smith is a nicely hissable villain, though sadly she isn't given much to do. Johnny Mac is super as Jack – he delivers his hammy lines with oodles of charm and his patter with the audience is perfectly judged. The best moment in the show comes when Mac turns a camera on the audience and banters with the people it lands on. Carrying that off is a skill on its own and he handles it with impressive flair.
So does Elaine C Smith, who is Scottish panto royalty. Her personality is big enough to fill the auditorium on its own and that's surely the reason why they dispense with the convention of having the dame played by a man. She owns the stage, but I particularly warmed to something she said in the programme: "People work hard and spend a lot of money – it may be their only visit to the theatre in a year, so it's our job to make it magical."
She does that well and her comment is quite right. There are a lot of performers and producers out there who could learn from her.