Jack and the Beanstalk

Written and directed by Susie McKenna
Hackney Empire
(2010)

Jack and the Beanstalk publicity photo

This is a refreshingly new version of the Jack and the Beanstalk story, or new to me at least. There's no Demon King; instead we get two baddies to boo: Runner Bean (Tony Whittle), who also answers to the name of Harry Co, and his wife Broad Bean (Jennie Dale) who even have a row of little Green Beans all of whom are specialists in wind and 'orrible odours. They work for the Giant who, until they got to know him, was apparently a nice giant.

Jack has a girl called Off Her Trolley Molly (Chloe Taylor), who's very keen on him, and a mate called Silly Billy (David Roberts) who is just that. As helpmeets he has Fairy Sweet Pea (Abigail Rosser), who gets pretty keen on Jack as well, and a Snowman who turns out to be his father. I didn't quite get that either but since the Snowman is played by the irrepressible Kat B and Jack's mum Dame Daisy is played by the irreplaceable Clive Rowe who cares? for with those two this can't help but be a happy Hackney pantomime.

Jaygann Ayeh, as Jack, who doesn't get to kill the Giant but does get the fairy, is a newcomer to the panto team but a very welcome one who brings personality and vigour as well as a way with a tune.

On opening night things didn't start off with quite the bang they should and everything was a little over amplified but that soon settled down and we could get on with enjoying ourselves. There is a splendid Giant Blunderbore (performed by Leon Sweeney, voiced by Cavin Cornwall and operated by Piers Aggett), and a lovely Buttercup, a cow we'd all like to have taken home (Alex France, Justin St. Cyr and Mathew Jeans, though whether all three at once I'm not sure!).

With Sharon D Clarke making a vocal appearance as the voice of the Giant's golden harp and Gemma Bird as a gold-egg laying hen who looks straight out of a showgirl line at the Follies this is another high-spirited Hackney romp. Although Lotte Collett's sets and costume have a slightly Russian look, the Giant (Fee Fie Fo Fum!) still smells the blood of an Englishman and it all takes place at Hackneydale. It will get you on your feet to dance along with the traditional song sheet and send you home with a big smile on your face.

Ends 9th January 2011

Reviewer: Howard Loxton