Review: Jack and the Beanstalk at Hope Street Theatre ****
Fe fi fo fum, something seasonally silly this way comes.
There are tall stories, and then there’s Jack and the Beanstalk, the improbable yarn in which a simple (Scouse) lad climbs a runaway runner bean to do battle with a hungry giant in the clouds, all to save the girl he loves. Oh yes he does.
This Just Entertainment production of the panto favourite may be low on the kind of glitz, gizmos and general razzmatazz on tap at larger venues, but while the set (a rudimentary fold out flat, a backdrop which doubles as a screen, and a curtain) is lo-fi, the show itself has plenty of festive spirit and a cheeky, genial cast.
Giant Blunderbore (an eye-in-the-sky voiced by Billy Butler) has a voracious appetite which is fed, literally, by his henchman Fleshcreep (Phil Perez, milking the boos) who, when he’s not demanding money with menaces, is kidnapping Liverpudlians for his master’s dinner.
When destitute Dame Trott (John Garfield-Roberts, also on directing duty) can’t pay up, Fleshcreep tricks son Jack (Joe Owens) out of Cilla the family cow and steals away Jack’s girlfriend Jill (Alice Carlile) for good measure, leading to the perilous climb up the lofty legume and a showdown between good and evil.
Last month Owens, who is fresh out of LIPA, played happy go lucky Tony in Laura Lees’ Masquerade at the Epstein Theatre.
Above: Dean Raymond as Silly Simon (with Doddy the Dodo). Top: Dame Trott (John Garfield-Roberts) and Jack (Joe Owens)
Here he channels a similar happy go lucky vibe as the titular Jack, only outdone on the energy front by Dean Raymond as sibling Silly Simon. Raymond is so energetic in fact that occasionally it feels a bit frenetic. Slowing his delivery a touch in his introduction scene would give individual gags more of a chance to land.
Still, the whole cast, which also includes Lesley Butler as a feisty Mother Nature, are evidently having a lot of fun - fun which is contagious, and Garfield-Roberts is careful to keep the pace ticking along, with plenty of audience participation.
Along the way, the show squeezes in a host of panto set pieces including a chaotic, crowd-pleasing 12 Days of Christmas, a ‘ghosties and ghoulies’ sequence, and a tricky tongue twister, which follow in quick succession in the second half.
And while the Hope Street Theatre may be one of the smaller performance spaces in the city, the production boasts surely one of this season’s bigger panto ensembles, with its six-strong main cast augmented by a dozen dancers, including youngster from Performers Theatre School, who deliver Jenna Rushton’s snappy choreographed routines.