Jack and the Beanstalk at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre – review
The Hammersmith panto is back!
Reviewers can sometimes be snobbish and turn their noses up at a show that audiences love. I fear that Jack and the Beanstalk is one of those shows – I may not be moved by the Lyric Hammersmith's sparkly production, but you would be hard-pressed to find an audience cheering as loudly and enthusiastically as this one does.
They have good reason to cheer. Co-writers Jude Christian and Sonia Jalaly and director Nicholai La Barrie have you singing along to big Beyoncé numbers with hip-hop and waacking dance sequences executed superbly by the ensemble – particularly Toyan Thomas-Browne, whose every move is finished off with impeccable style. In this story, panto baddie Fleshcreep (powerhouse vocalist Jodie Jacobs) rules the land, setting high taxes and stealing the family's farm animals when they cannot pay up, carrying them off with a huge arcade-style claw.
Jack (Leah St Luce) is a fun, charismatic kid who is determined to get rid of Fleshcreep. At her mother's (Emmanuel Akwafo) behest she takes Daisy, the cow, to market, only to sell her in exchange for beans. Jack's best friend and fairy godparent Jill (Maddison Bulleyment) grants Jack's wishes and sings some gorgeous showstopping numbers. One scene sees the fairy and Jack singing to each other while bathed in as blue and pink lights – framing their heartwarming relationship.
To use a drag expression, Emmanuel Akwafo slays as the diva-ish Dame Trott. She may be Jack's mum, but she is less of a mother figure and more a glamorous, sexy and melodramatic queen, who weeps about how her daughter is gone one moment, before forgetting that she even has a daughter the next, much to the audience's amusement. Her costumes are a mixed bag; some are lovely, like a recycling bin with rubbish framing the head and shoulders, or a milkshake complete with whipped cream, a straw, and a cherry on top. But others are simpler and anticlimactic for a panto, like a striped dress with a collar and tie.
Similarly, the set does not have the ‘wow' factor that panto can achieve. Much of the show occurs in front of the curtain, with Simon (Finlay McGuigan), Jack's brother, filling time with a dinosaur bedsheet as a backdrop, cracking gags, or riding his skateboard. The energy flags in these sections, as they take us out of the story, presumably to prepare the scenery behind. When the curtain rises, big set pieces like the beanstalk or a cow milking machine with bleep-bloop button sound effects are impressive, but they don't always get used enough to warrant the waiting.
This is a tightly executed show, but it lights up when things start go "wrong" – in one scene, Fleshcreep gets upstaged by an ensemble member who tries to sneak onstage quietly, forgetting to cover their sparkly gold hat, and everyone, including Fleshcreep, rolls about laughing. Fleshcreep has a blast milking lines, and cast members revel in responding to vocal audience members. For my money, the actors could improvise and play with the audience even more.
The Lyric Hammersmith has a reputation for putting on quality pantos, and it is clear from the way both children and adults holler at the stage that they have a fantastic time. It's worth adding – if you want to see some top-tier musical theatre performers, this is the festive show for you. I might be too more of a Scrooge than some, but hey, a critic's opinion is a lot less relevant when audiences are rolling in the aisles.