Jack and the Beanstalk pantomime, starring Alison Hammond, at Birmingham Hippodrome – review

The Crossroads production runs until 28 January

Alison Hammond in a scene from Jack and the Beanstalk at Birmingham Hippodrome
Alison Hammond in Jack and the Beanstalk, © Paul Coltas

Birmingham Hippodrome’s Jack and the Beanstalk carries the tagline ‘The Giant Pantomime Spectacular’ and it certainly lives up to the boast.

Produced and directed by Michael Harrison, the show pulls out all the stops to ensure it is bursting with wow factor. From stage-size puppets with rolling eyes and moving limbs to giant beanstalks growing out of the auditorium, spectacle is what it’s all about.

This year marks Matt Slack’s tenth Hippodrome pantomime and he knows what the audience wants. While some of the gags are rolled out each year, children and adults alike lap them up so, if it’s not broken, why fix it?

Written by Slack with Harry Michaels, the show is very much about personality rather than story. There are some totally incongruous ‘variety show’ performances but these are all about giving different cast members their moment and feature lots of energetic dancing and humour.

Slack plays Jack’s brother Jake and he drives much of the comedy with plenty of slapstick and some impressive impersonations as he works his way through an A-to-Z of celebrities including David Attenborough, John Bishop and Joe Pasquale.

Brummie favourite Alison Hammond takes to her first Birmingham pantomime like a duck to water, clearly loving her role as The Spirit of the Bells and relishing the experience of the live audience response. Samantha Womack dons the black boots and feathers as the baddie, Mrs Blunderbore, the wife of the giant. Stalking around the stage and hissing at the other cast members, she plays well to the audience although there are moments when the silliness of it all risks cracking the evil façade.

In true panto tradition, Andrew Ryan as the dame is donned in fantastic costumes, bats inch-long eyelashes and flirts with one unfortunate audience member. A word of warning – if you are a shrinking violet, never sit in the front rows of the Birmingham Hippodrome pantomime!

Doreen Tipton plays Doreen the Cow with an impressive amount of personality for a farmyard animal and reminds us that she is multi-talented as she belts out a tongue-in-cheek version of Les Misérables’ “I Dreamed A Dream” along the lines of “I Creamed a Cream”.

Alexanda O’Reilly is a likeable Jack, who is certainly game as he hits the heights and climbs the beanstalk, while Billie-Kay’s Princess Jill is suitably sugary sweet.

The sets designed by Mark Walters received an Olivier Award nomination when they premiered at The London Palladium last year which is no wonder as they are bold, bright and hugely imaginative. Add into this picture Ben Cracknell’s lighting and the show is bursting with colour and movement so that the set is as much a part of the action as the cast.

Teresa Nalton’s costume designs are glamorous and glitzy but with beautiful detail and really come to the fore in the dance scenes, choreographed by Ashley Nottingham, which range from whip-cracking cowboys and cowgirls through to high-kicking chickens.

Jack and the Beanstalk has all the magic ingredients of a successful panto – it looks luscious, is packed full of jokes, has some larger-than-life characters and features impressive special effects. It’s certainly full of beans.