Jack and the Beanstalk

Laure Lindow
Dance City in association with Seven Stories
Dance City, Newcastle

Jack and the Beanstalk

It’s Jack and the Beanstalk, folks, but not as we know it.

And that’s because it’s not a panto: it’s a piece of storytelling/physical theatre and it’s aimed at children between 4 and 7. There’s no Dame and no Comic but we do have a cow (Elspeth, not Daisy), a magic hen, a giant and, of course, the beanstalk.

It’s the tallest of tall stories and it’s told to us by four jackdaws who take on different roles, with sometimes a bit of disagreement about who should play what. There are no costumes apart from the addition of shawl or a jacket and the odd mask or two to the basic child-like clothing with a few feathers stuck on them here and there, and no set, apart from some boxes, a table, chairs, stepladders and a dustbin (from which the beanstalk grows). Lights fly in and out and there’s a flown hoop which provides the opportunity for a little aerial work. Oh yes, and the hen is a puppet.

These four actors and the very basic setting tell a magical tale which had the kids in the audience, mainly school parties, entranced for an hour. And it very definitely passed the “toilet test”: only two children had to go in the whole time. That is success!

It’s an experienced and very talented cast – which, of course, it has to be to carry along an audience full of very young children for an hour. Ian McLaughlin plays Jackdaw 1, Elspeth the Cow and the Giant; Rachel Teate is Jackdaw 2, Mr Broomby, a couple of shoppers and the Giant’s Little Sister; Rebecca Hollingsworth plays Jackdaw 3 and Jack’s mother Meg, whilst Ruth Johnson is Jackdaw 4 and Jack.

All the characters are well differentiated, so the kids were never confused, and played with just enough child-likeness to appeal without seeming silly. However there was enough subtle characterisation to appeal to the adults: Teate’s Little Sister, for example, reminded me irresistibly of Miranda Richardson’s Queenie in Blackadder, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in that.

The show is directed by Rosie Kellagher with music by Jeremy Bradfield and design by Verity Quinn.

There’s also a bit of enthusiastic audience participation – row after row of excited 5 year olds thrusting their hands into the air is quite a sight to behold! They loved it!

This is Dance City’s first ever venture into producing their own children’s Christmas show. It has only a short run – just eight performances over four days – but all credit to the venue’s artistic director Anthony Baker for taking the risk. If all goes as well as the performance which I saw, it’s got to encourage him to do it again next year - and for a longer time.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan