Friday 21 December 2012

Jack & The Beanstalk - Review

Theatre Royal, Stratford East


Book and lyrics by Paul Sirett
Music and lyrics by Wayne Nunes and Perry Melius
Directed by Dawn Reid

Oliver Taheri and Jack Shalloo
The Theatre Royal in London’s Stratford has a reputation for excellence in its Christmas offering each year. Jack & The Beanstalk, this season’s pantomime is a big visual extravaganza that will keep the kids well entertained for a couple of hours, but it may leave the parents wishing for a bit more of a meal than Jack’s magic beans.

Paul Sirett takes the classic fairy tale, introducing us to Jack as the traditional good for nothing, albeit with a talent for body-popping. Jorell Coiffic-Kamall plays Jack and his movement and expression together with his wide eyed innocence, make him a hero that children can believe in, identify with and cheer along as well when the going gets surprisingly scary. Michael Bertenshaw a veteran of Stratford East who plays Jack's mum, is a talented and well experienced dame, deliciously grotesque on the eye and with a voice that’s wonderfully tuneless. Whilst Sirett has made only minor tweaks to the traditional narrative, he seems to have forgotten that there will be a significant adult constituent to his show’s audience, particularly when the school groups cease over the holiday period. Disappointingly, very few of Bertenshaw’s gags are aimed at the grown-ups and a local panto in particular should be able to be cheeky, mocking and satirical, as well as being top notch entertainment for the young ‘uns.
The supporting cast are a talented bunch. Jack Shalloo and Oliver Taheri provide the comic relief as a pair of bungling burglars. They ham it up appropriately, Shalloo’s singing voice also providing some brief moments of quality harmony. Outstanding vocals are also delivered by Allyson Ava-Brown as Harpo, a woman with a harp joined to her head by the ogre (yes, that possibly is a tad grotesque for a panto). Brown is an accomplished chanteuse and her voice and presence would make for an excellent, home-grown, Rachel Marron one day.
The ogre’s lair and the giant-sized ogre himself, a cleverly designed and animated puppet, have a slightly distasteful air of the Saw movies horror franchise, a suggestion further enhanced by the oversize tools that hang in the ogre's kitchen and the nasty little radio-controlled cars that scoot across the stage adorned with severed limbs. If any stage blood had been added the show would have garnered a 16+ recommendation.  And at the risk of sounding like a “don’t try this at home” preacher, why in what is clearly aimed at being a children’s show, were characters allowed to climb into an oven, of all things, to hide?
The show’s music has some clever moments with minor interludes of blues and soul, but again comes over as a touch too anodyne. A nod to one or two popular and familiar songs would not have gone amiss.
This is Sirett’s first effort at panto writing and it shows. Many fine writers before him have run aground on the treacherous rocks of comedy creation. Pantomime, like commedia dell ‘arte needs perceptive pencraft, married to excellent performance and whilst in this production, the talent on stage is first rate, their material seems to be focussed too much on diversity and political correctness at the expense of humour. If the writers did not wish to offend, they have also largely failed to amuse. Where were the snappy or even visual gags and where was that well drilled slapstick? One should not expect a mega-bucks production at Stratford East, that is not what the theatre is famous for. It is however renowned for being a home of sharp comment, pointed and well-rehearsed comedy as well as cheeky pantomime excellence. Young kids will love this Jack and those accompanying them will delight in their glee, but this production is really just a seasonal children's show rather than a pantomime that is fun for all the the family. As an honoured festive tradition, this platter is in need of a little more sauce.

Runs until January 19

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