The fun starts even before anyone is on stage at this production of Jack and the Beanstalk, with curious children looking around and observing a considerable number of adults with their arms in the air, before curling their hands above their heads, then placing one hand above their head and the other at waist height, both horizontally, then bringing both hands together above their heads to form an arch. Yes, we were being treated (or subjected) to ‘Y.M.C.A.’, the 1978 tune made famous by the disco group Village People. Incidentally, according to a YouTube video of the Village People that I looked at after the show, the ‘M’ is often performed erroneously: done properly, the ‘M’ should be formed just below chest height. By the time the number was played again before the start of Act Two, some younger members of the audience, quick learners as they were, were joining in too – and that, without even being part of the narrative, is a simple but nonetheless extraordinary demonstration of the family and community spirit that a pantomime can bring about.
Once the show proper got underway, there were still a few tweaks required on press night to the sound balance, relatively minor issues that will work themselves out as the run progresses, but even so, the odd lyric here and there was hard to decipher. The cast performed with gusto, making seemingly effortless transitions in a comprehensive display of actor-musicianship. I might as well mention a press night wig malfunction – John Barr’s Dame Dotty Trott came up trumps in the aftermath, ramping up the comedy effect in a way that only pantomime could do.
There seemed to be fewer traditional call and responses than in previous years: believe it or not ‘Oh no it isn’t’ and ‘It’s behind you’ only appear after the interval. The first half instead focuses on bespoke responses to three characters, the Dame, Pat The Cow (Claire Greenway) and title character Jack Trott (James William-Pattison, versatility personified – his last Hornchurch role was in Once The Musical, about as far away from the raucous and hammed-up nature of a pantomime as one could get, certainly within the same season at the same theatre).
A large number of chart music tunes is included in this year’s repertoire, though some, in the style of Motown The Musical, last for only a verse or two before segueing swiftly into something else, or, in the case of Frank Furter (Richard Emerson), just having his Elvis numbers truncated (‘ahhh’). The songs do have their place in the story, inasmuch as it is not impossible to make connections between the songs and the plotline. As for the punchlines, they are very tame this time around, with no sharp intakes of breath. “I just lost my job as a human cannonball. I got fired” is the level of (non) smuttiness maintained throughout. Oh, and when the Dame hopes for a season ticket to West Ham United Football Club, I couldn’t help but be amused by the mixed response of simultaneous cheers and boos. This panto also served as my initiation into the ‘Baby Shark’ song – I can see its appeal!
The lighting (Prema Mehta) is effective, particularly with the arrival of Hurricane (Taylor Rettke), the loyal servant of The Giant (Sheldon Greenland), who elicits boos and hisses without much need for any other cues or hints to the audience. Hurricane had the best line in the show (for me): “I love booze.” The choreography (Sundeep Kent) is kept simple and is fun to watch, and as always, good triumphs over evil, there’s the shortest wedding ever, and we’re sent into the night with renewed vigour as a result of this enjoyable and entertaining production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
When Jack sells Pat, his beloved family cow, for magic beans, he soon discovers they open up an unexpected world of thrilling adventure. Join Jack and dotty mum Dame Trott as they scale the Beanstalk, outwit the Giant and are reunited with Jill, the girl Jack loves.
Brought to you by the same team as last year’s record-breaking Beauty and the Beast and 2016’s Cinderella, this actor-musician version of the popular panto tale is peppered with pop hits from across the decades, bundles of audience participation and hilarious slapstick. So grab your tickets today for some joyously festive family fun.
John Barr – Dame Dotty Trott
Hollie Cassar – Fortuna/Show MD
Celia Cruwys-Finnigan – Understudy/Ensemble
Richard Emerson – Frank Furter
Sheldon Greenland – The Big Dipper
Claire Greenway – Pat
Taylor Rettke – Hurricane
Elizabeth Rowe – Jill
James William-Pattinson – Jack Trott
Writer – Andrew Pollard
Director – Martin Berry
Designer – Richard Foxton
Musical Director – Gemma Hawkins
Lighting Designer – Prema Mehta
Sound Designer – Leigh Davies
Choreographer – Sundeep Kent
Casting Director – Matthew Dewsbury
Casting Assistant – Tom Hurley
28 Nov 2018 – 6 Jan 2019
Running Time: 140 minutes
Interval: 20 minutes