Review: JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, Oxford Playhouse

This magical fairy tale takes adventure to a whole new level – quite literally.

By: Dec. 01, 2023
Review: JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, Oxford Playhouse
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Review: JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, Oxford Playhouse Christmas has arrived at the Oxford Playhouse, with the return of its beloved annual pantomime, and this year, director Toby Hulse brings us Jack and the Beanstalk. Written by Jack Counsel, this magical fairy tale takes adventure to a whole new level – quite literally.

The audience join the loveable Jack (Max Guest) and Jill (Dumile Sibanda) on an adventure to solve the mysterious goings on in their hometown of Oxenford. The pair climb up a beanstalk through the clouds before coming face-to-face with an environment-loving, vegetarian giant. Guest and Sibanda are supported by Alasdair Buchan as Dame Mary, Heather Porte as Slightly Fragile Susan, Robin Hemmings as Hendrix the Horrible, and Madison Swan as Fairy Foxglove. Buchan makes for a brilliant Dame; his chaotic antics and elaborate costume changes provide much of the show’s light-hearted comedic moments.

The obvious fan favourite, however, was the villainous, electric guitar-bearing Hendrix the Horrible, who’s charismatic stage presence was undeniable. Having had many previous credits at the Oxford Playhouse, Hemmings clearly knows how to win over an audience.

Review: JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, Oxford Playhouse

The show incorporates its fair share of traditional pantomime elements, with plenty of booing, cheering, cheesy one-liners, and bean-related puns. Audience engagement was at the heart of the performance, with everyone constantly encouraged to sing, dance, and shout out. There is no denying that the younger members of the audience were thoroughly entertained, which was a delight to see. The classic panto ‘slosh scene’ is always guaranteed to get a laugh, but this time, it was a little underwhelming – only mildly messy, with a lack of ‘slosh’. A lot of the physical slapstick comedy was kept to a minimum.

Like many others of its genre, Jack and the Beanstalk incorporates parodical versions of many popular songs, including a comical rendition of "Come on Eileen", and an amusing ‘guitar-off’ at the show’s climax. Songs are paired with polished and visually engaging choreography by Rae Piper and Paul Chantry. As well as confident dancers, the cast are all extremely strong vocalists, but unfortunately this element was sometimes lost due to the volume of the accompaniment.

Review: JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, Oxford Playhouse

Set was minimalistic, yet effectively established the quaint fairy tale village, with creative involvement of the young ensemble as part of the beanstalk. Bright, colourful costume by Anthony Lamble compliemented the disco-inspired lighting, and the special effects (snow, bubbles, haze) are also highly commended. These technical elements helped to create a classic panto ambience, immersing the audience in the glitz and glam of Oxenford.

There is fierce competition within the pantomime genre recently, with many productions putting their own spin on tradition, and unfortunately Jack and the Beanstalk just isn’t up to scratch when compared. But, for what the show lacks in modern innovation, it makes up for with a brilliant main cast, a very talented young ensemble, and plenty of charisma. Although ‘slightly fragile’, the show is still an enjoyable festive experience which pays homage to iconic pantomime traditions, appealing to a younger demographic.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Oxford Playhouse until 7 January 2024.

Photo credit: Geraint Lewis