It’s bright, it’s funny, and it makes next to no sense – Jack and the Beanstalk is pretty much everything you want from a pantomime.
Norwich Theatre Royal’s Christmas mainstay is a slick and professional show, that hits all the traditional buttons but with higher production values than some festive fare.
Andrew Pollard’s script translates the familiar story to a mythical version of Norwich, ruled over by Rufus Hound’s bufoonish, tooting King Nigel but cowering under the threat of Giant Bonecrunch – voiced by local comedian Karl Minns – and his henchman Nightshade, played by EastEnders star Dayle Hudson.
Leading an accidental rebellion is Great Yarmouth-born comedian Joe Tracini as Jack, along with Princess Jill (Sally Hodgkiss) and panto regular Richard Gauntlett as Dame Trott. They are helped – but mostly hindered – by Amanda Henderson as Pat the Cow, with some fairy dust bestowed by a full-of-life Linda John-Pierre as Fairy Fullobeans.
The main cast is completed by two local kids who fall for Nightshade’s tricks, Beau and Bill, played last night by Iris Harker-Smith and Danny Gooda, but represented throughout the run by a rotating list of Archie Woodward, Valentina Santos, Cameron Eiko Scott, Harry Clark, Rory Sexton and Tallulah Godfrey.
The rest of the story doesn’t really matter too much – there is song, there are bad puns, inexplicable routines featuring names of cheeses and song lyrics, and action and double crosses that make very little sense. All of which is very much the point.
The show is visually impressive, with big bold sets that incorporate lots of subtle local references, inflating beanstalks and some large-scale puppeteering mixed with video to bring the giant to life.
Hound and Tracini seem to be enjoying themselves in their central roles, with Gauntlett demonstrating why he returns year after year. John-Pierre and Henderson bring a lot of joy to their performances – with the former particularly in great voice – and Hodgkiss is likeably earnest as the moral heart of the story.
Hudson as the main baddie needs to vamp up his menace – his programme notes say he’s combined Nick Cotton, Phil Mitchell, and Ian Beale, but it’s the latter in his chip shop days that mostly comes through. He’s just too contained for an arch panto villain.
Overall though, this is knockabout nonsense – which is exactly how it should be.
- Jack and the Beanstalk continues at Norwich Theatre Royal until January 7, 2023.