Jack and the Beanstalk review – no expense spared for all-star entertainment giant | Panto Season

PAntos are usually cheap and cheerful, so it’s disorienting to see millions of pounds (I guess) thrown at just one. The giant in this Jack and the Beanstalk is an animatronic colossus, the beanstalk could disturb low-flying planes around W1, and there were so many whizzbang pyrotechnics, I spent much of act one with a whiff of cordite in my nostrils. Ah, but the jokes – they’re as cheap as ever. You can leave wishing for a better told fairy tale. But if you’re here for Julian Clary’s sexual innuendo – well, he’ll give you absolute prank.

‘Squeeze my pods’… Julian Clary in Jack and the Beanstalk. Photography: Paul Coltas

As noted for previous pantos at this address, its family friendliness is questionable. There are long stretches (oo-er, miss) of thinly disguised smut and sour celeb banter, as Clary teases Dawn French (“a low-budget Miriam Margolyes”), French teases Alexandra Burke and everyone teases Nigel Havers. But if the smut is overdone, it’s also creative (Jack: “I’ve been ruminating really hard” / Clary: “Well, you haven’t seen Jill since scene six”). And there’s enough ruckus, spectacle and sensory overload to keep the kids on board. Check out the old-school burlesque routine – frying pans up! — accompanying a song about Havers’ career options, or Clary’s stunning costumes as her green-fingered role in the Spirit of Beans (“squeeze my pods if you’re keen”).

Jack and the Beanstalk makes no sense as a story, let alone a story worth telling. What little threat the giant poses is dissipated with derisory ease. Calling the love interest by numbers is an insult to numbers. We are left with a variety show in fairytale clothes, where vitality is provided by individual sets: a breathtaking song and dance number between Louis Gaunt’s Jack and his glory-hungry cow (Rob Madge), for example. Or Gary Wilmot’s hypochondriac song, or a plosive tongue twister routine to test Paul Zerdin’s ventriloquial skills.

Zerdin, who co-created the show, lacks warmth as a simple Simon. But French and Clary are having a lot of sardonic fun and Havers is a great sport because everyone is the scapegoat. Money talks, finally, as does the skill of former pros: light on the killing of giants perhaps, but it’s giant entertainment.


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