Jack and the Beanstalk

Andrew Pollard
Salisbury Playhouse
Salisbury Playhouse

The cast of Jack and the Beanstalk
Sam Harrison as Jack and Laura Crowhurst as Pat the Cow
Richard Ede as Dame Trott

It’s early December and the middle of the week. The kids aren’t due to start their Christmas holiday for at least another fortnight and yet the Playhouse is packed. And not just with the youngsters. Parents and grandparents are here, as well as the regulars, from Salisburyand beyond. It’s the pantomime of course.

Writer Andrew Pollard and director Ryan McBride enchanted us with their magical Cinderella in 2015 and their Aladdin last year. We remember all those lovely songs and can still feel tearful when we recall Aladdin’s farewell to Ping Pong the giant panda.

But Jack and the Beanstalk? Isn’t that going to cause some problems? Is there actually going to be a climbable beanstalk? (Yes there is). And what about the giant? (They manage that too.)

I think we all know the story. Jack (Sam Harrison) and his mother, Dame Trott (Richard Ede), are traditionally poor. Very poor. Heavily in debt to the giant (although we don’t actually see him till the second half) and harried by his obnoxious steward Nightshade, played with traditional malevolence by Steven Sterlin. Loud, unprompted booing greets his every appearance.

Pat the cow (Laura Crowhurst), naturally Cow Pat, doesn’t just get sold off in the market but has a major part as confidante and friend of the Trott family. We care about her. She really mustn’t end up carved in slices on a plate, must she?

Then, of course, there’s the romantic interest. Will King Crackpot (J J Henry) and Dame Trott find happiness together? What does the future hold for Princess Jill (Tanya Shields) and Jack? Will the final curtain also involve a wedding? And what about that lovely character, Fortuna (Jemma Geanaus) the fortune teller who modestly calls herself "just a bean seller", but has, as we scarcely need to be told, all the powers and good intentions of a fairy godmother? She’ll protect them, won’t she? At least the ones that deserve it.

Then there are the twelve young girls who make up the two teams of talented and accomplished dancers, the Blue Beans and the Red Beans, taking part in alternate performances. They’re particularly impressive as the Clouds and, of course, as that lovely collections of milk cartons in the scene in the dairy.

And the giant, the experimental manipulator of minds? He’s mentioned in the cast list but only as Himself. There’s no actual human inside that immense head and ponderous walk, then? So it’s really some kind of technological wizardry? We’re full of admiration but seriously mystified.

We have all the expected rituals of the pantomime of course—greetings to members of the audience with birthdays, local references in the script and the audience singing along to the words of a song, on this occasion one about the YMCA.

Ah yes. There’s music. Of course there is. Wonderful music, with quodlibets, those light-hearted medleys of well-known tunes, taking a prominent role. And laughter. The laughter is continuous.

But most noticeable, perhaps, is the relationship between the actors and the audience. Individual members of the audience, some of them surprisingly young, feel at liberty to make a contribution and the actors respond in kind. We are all friends, enjoying ourselves. Fourth wall? What’s that?

Hope Andrew’s and Ryan’s diaries have next year’s panto pencilled in. I mean, they’re already becoming an institution and Salisbury wouldn’t be the same without them, would it?

Happy Christmas.

Reviewer: Anne Hill

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