BWW Review: JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock
Produced by Imagine Theatre, the Beacon Arts Centre's annual pantomime is Jack and the Beanstalk.
The town is being held to ransom by a giant up in Cloudland who demands that the locals give him livestock to eat. The giant's henchman Fleshcreep (Mark Cox) is in charge of making sure the townspeople obey and hand over their animals. The Trot family view Daisy the cow as their best friend but need to sell her for her safety. Well-meaning Jack Trot exchanges his beloved pet for a bag of beans instead of the golden nuggets he thought he was bargaining for.
While another version of Jack and the Beanstalk that I saw had Jack essentially stalking the object of his affection and proposing despite having never had a conversation with her- Jack (Michael Karl-Lewis) and Princess Apricot (Kim Allan) are already an item. Jack's mother thinks her son is too good for the princess and Queen Grizelda feels that he isn't good enough to marry into her family. When the Queen decides to offer her daughters hand in marriage (which Apricot is suitably outraged about) to whoever can defeat the giant, Jack seizes the opportunity.
The characters in Jack and the Beanstalk are well fleshed out and it is unusual and refreshing to see roles that are normally lost in favour of the comedy ones get the attention they deserve- especially with such talented actors. They've taken full advantage of Ashley Andrew's gorgeous singing voice have her belting out "Find Your Grail" from Spamalot as Fairy Flora.
The big names for this pantomime are Jane McCarry (Queen Grizelda) and Mark Cox (Fleshcreep), best known for their roles in Still Game. For the last few years McCarry has played the villain so it was a refreshing change to see Cox play the baddie this year. Both have superb comic timing and are a joy to watch.
Jimmy Chisholm plays Dame Trot and is exceptional in the role. His dry wit and constant good-natured harassment of a man in the front row has the audience laughing throughout. There's innuendo but its never crude or explicit and any interaction is never done for the sake of ridicule or to make anybody uncomfortable. Lee Samuel takes on the role of Simon Trot, a well-meaning wee daftie. Though excellent on their own, the pair shine during scenes together and have a fantastic rapport.
There are a few tricks and treats that I don't want to spoil for anyone but the magic of panto is alive and well in Greenock. It's no secret that this particular pantomime will feature a beanstalk but the way its appearance is executed is just an absolute delight.
With all the makings of a good traditional panto- the boos and hisses, the audience shout outs (who put my name in for this? I will find you!), the farcical performance of "The 12 Days of Christmas" and a general sense of wonder. The magic in this production doesn't come from high tech gimmicks or laughing at anybody's expense. Imagine Theatre have managed to strike the perfect balance between seriously good comedy and quality storytelling.
The Beacon Arts Centre pantomime is the one that I blindly recommend to families every year and I'm thrilled to see that its showing no signs of ever letting me down!
Jack and the Beanstalk is at the Beacon Arts Centre until 31 December.