Jack and the Beanstalk at Lyric Hammersmith
The age-old tale of Jack and the Beanstalk has had an update by Tom Wells and Dan Herd. Think Jack’s elderly mother teaching an audience member how to twerk, songs adapted from Taylor Swift and references to Breaking Bad; all very tongue-in-cheek, of course. The pace of this production – pop references and traditional pantomime kicks to boot – is rip-roaringly fast, and it is very, very funny.
Expectations of the traditional are immediately overturned as Jack is introduced as a girl (Rochelle Rose). With her camp sidekick Sprout (Stephen Webb, History Boys), they make a dynamic pair at the centre of the drama, breaking into bursts of street dancing and competing for the best/worst pun. Webb builds a confident rapport with the audience, and is easily the best loved character throughout. Jack and Sprout are joined by Jack’s mother, Moreen (Howard Ward), all bust, plastic pinafore and frilly cap, who makes her living from milkshakes to the tune of Kelis.
But all is not as happy as it seems in Jack’s world – cue traditionally melodramatic panto villain in the form of Mr. Fleshcreep (Nigel Richards) who demands five hundred shillings from Moreen in rent, threatening to ruin “Hammersmithmas”. Fleshcreep works for the Giant Snot who wishes to steal Caroline the Cow for a snack and rob Hammersmith of all the Christmas trees. Moreen must sell Caroline at the market and – no prizes for guessing – Jack and Sprout return with five measly beans.
Post interval set change, it is up to Jack – and new friend Jill, with whom she has a kindling romance – to climb up into the regions of Snot and rescue Caroline and restore Christmas in Hammersmith. With some unashamedly crude special effects and much meta-theatrical dialogue, “happily ever after” reigns supreme.
This production is a little rough around the edges. The pantomime dame does not command as many laughs as she might, choreography is far from synchronised and, perhaps most disappointingly, Jack’s singing voice is all but completely lost in the volume of the live orchestra. Unfortunately a solo female alto seems a bad choice for this kind of production.
Criticisms aside, judging by the level of noise from the audience, the number of kids shrieking excitedly on their feet and the parental appreciation of healthy doses of adult humour, this production is a lot of fun – surely the best way to start the festive season.
Jack and the Beanstalk is at Lyric Hammersmith until 4th January 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.