Review: Jack and the Beanstalk at Floral Pavilion ****
If you want to properly gauge a panto’s impact, you need to watch it with hundreds of schoolchildren sprung from their classrooms and dizzy with excitement and expectation.
And so, to the Floral Pavilion where Jack and the Beanstalk is this festive season’s (tall) story, being told with lashings of colour and energy - even on a mizzle-soaked midweek morning by the Mersey.
Those want to dismiss panto should try singing, dancing, emoting and tumbling in front of hundreds of people twice a day for the best part of a month. Respect is definitely due.
It’s true the references, gags and puns that pack the script may tend to fly over small heads. And there are a couple of relatively dialogue-heavy sections, where the youngest natives in the busy schools’ audience around me started to get a little restless.
But thankfully the smut/double entendre level has subsided from last year (when it reached a Spinal Tap 11 at times).
And the action sequences, fight scenes, big song and dance numbers and particularly two entertaining 3D interludes – one involving the giant and one an inventive reworking of the ‘ghosties and ghoulies’ routine, certainly go down a treat.
In fact, the screaming reached Beatlemania proportions in the latter of these as Ghostbuster-style apparitions ran riot through the auditorium, through the prism of provided 3D glasses at least.
Above: Joseph Elliott as Fleshcreep. Top: Oliver Brooks as Dame Trott. Photos by Brian Roberts.
The sound levels also threatened to lift the roof off whenever Joseph Elliott’s baddie Fleshcreep appeared. Elliott looks like he’s having a ball channelling his inner Richard O’Brien as he prowls the stage and taunts his audience into ever greater feats of booing. Oh yes he does!
He’s also given some neat put downs by writer Chris Fearn (Pumpkim Kardashian and Rhubarbra Streisand, aimed at Hayley Tamaddon’s cheerful Vegetable Fairy, immediately spring to mind).
Elsewhere the production pays homage to/pilfers from a range of comedy and musical sources – there’s a lively ensemble rendition of Rocky Horror’s The Time Warp, Rachel Grundy’s feisty, go-getting Princess Jill is sorry, not sorry (SIX the Musical’s irresistible banger Don’t Lose Your Head), the magic beanstalk is very Audrey II (although lacks her voraciousness), there’s a nod to cinema's Barbie, and Fleshcreep’s question answering challenge to Jack (Joe Sleight) reminds of the classic Two Ronnies’ Mastermind sketch.
Above: Hayley Tamaddon as the Vegetable Fairy. Photo by Brian Roberts.
In this version of the fairytale, Jack and Jill are best friends and Jill spends much of the show trying to boost a bookish Jack’s confidence, with the titular hero appearing to be in the middle of an existential crisis.
His brother Simon (audience favourite Sean Jones, returning to the Floral stage for another Christmas but noticeably dialling down the more dangerous pratfalls) is a much simpler, happier soul by comparison.
Incidentally, it’s a reversal of roles for Jones and Sleight, who also play stage siblings in Blood Brothers – where Sleight’s Eddie is the more emotionally secure and Jones’s Mickey is the troubled soul.
Back with the beanstalk, along with the ghosties and ghoulies, there’s a rather rushed cooking scene between Simon and Oliver Brooks’ statuesque Dame Trott which would get bigger laughs if it was just given a bit more room to breathe.
But elsewhere there’s plenty to delight panto fans in a show which is bright, cheerful and engaging and which has a positive message - about being happy with who you are - nestled among the songs and slapstick.