Folk tales only become old because they speak about timeless issues to successive generations of the young. If they were to lose their relevance, they would fade and die, simple as that. No wonder then that Jack and the Beanstalk is as durable as they come, with its supernatural backdrop of a giant in the sky and its social realism foreground of a boy struggling to redeem his family from the shackles of poverty.
In this version by Paul Sirett, first produced at Stratford’s Theatre Royal seven years ago, both the predicament (caused by the failure of the cow’s milk) and its solution (brought about by Jack’s courage) have a vivid and poignant realism, no matter how much seasonal jollity – and there is plenty of that – is sharing the stage.
As ever, the figure of Mrs. Trott is crucial to the working of the story and its pantomime vehicle, he/she being both the beleaguered matriarch and a kind of compere for the talents of the young surrounding cast. Here Theatre Peckham has done well to land Michael Bertenshaw, a veteran of roles both classical and whimsical in the West End, the National and such TV staples as The Bill, Dr. Who and Midsomer Murders. It is also well served by composers/musicians Wayne Nunes and Perry Melius.
Part panto dame and part skiffle troubadour, Bertenshaw brings a gloriously wacky authority to the whole of the story’s boisterous ménage. This is perhaps as important to the company’s offstage narrative as it is to the performances themselves, given Theatre Peckham’s community mission. With funding from the Arts Council and Southwark local authority, it has become not just a producing house but a route through which its young members can hope to join the entertainment industry.
For this show, there are two alternating casts, the so-called Blue Team and Orange Team. Catching the first of these, I saw Cyrus Abraham-Odukale’s plucky and exuberant Jack, supported by a remarkably versatile cast in which Aiko Foueillis-Mose and Nova Skyla Foueillis-Mose as the young sages Lucy and Boz. Precocious? In the sense of early-flowering talent, certainly.
Considering that artistic director Suzann McLean is still relatively new in her post, the theatre’s own future looks hardly less bright.
Review by Alan Franks
Olivier-nominated and award-winning playwright Paul Sirett (REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL, THE BIG LIFE, RAT PAT CONFIDENTIAL) imagines one of the most treasured and classic children’s fairytale’s Jack And The Beanstalk in this updated production with music composed by Wayne Nunes and Perry Melius, staged at Theatre Peckham and directed by Suzann McLean.
Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum, mysterious things are happening around Peckham.
In the street where Jack lives there have been a series of break-ins. Even aspiring young detective Lucy is finding it hard to follow the clues. All is lost for Jack and his Mum until mystical rapper Shot the Poet sets the adventure in motion with a bag of magical beans… This festive pantomime is a wonderful coming of age tale where Jack learns to make up for the mistakes he has made and strives to do good for his family. Set in inner-city London this play channels influences from the electric 80s and takes inspiration from the teen adventure movies of the era.
The cast includes a mix of students from Theatre Peckham’s Academy as well as professional actors. Michael Bertenshaw (THE MINITURIST, THE CROWN) who was cast in the 2012 version of the play at Theatre Royal Stratford East, reprises his role as the Dame. Meet new character, Shot the Poet, a local spoken word artist and enter a world where adults learn from the much wiser child characters.
Written by Paul Sirett
Directed by Suzann McLean
Composed by Wayne Nunes and Perry Melius
Wed 4– Sun 22 Dec 2019
Venue: Theatre Peckham, 221 Havil Street, London, SE5 7SD
Box Office: Tel: 0207 708 5401 Online: www.theatrepeckham.co.uk