REVIEW: All singing, all dancing Jack and the Beanstalk at the Floral Pavilion

Sharing a pantomime performance with 800 primary school children sounds like the stuff of nightmares, does it not?

But let me tell you, dear Reader: it was an absolute pleasure. In fact, I think it may be the only way to really appreciate panto. For the Floral’s Jack and the Beanstalk the other day, the inmates of three of Wirral’s primary schools joined me and my mate (51).

As soon as the lights went down, the entire auditorium (minus two 50 somethings; can’t vouch for the teachers) began screaming with glee.

The sheer joy of sitting in the dark, in anticipation, was infectious. Demob-happy, high on school-trip fumes, and frankly delighted at being given carte blanche to shout out without putting their hands up, it was not exactly a tough crowd.

The curtain rises on a strong start. The giant’s evil henchman, Fleshcreep, styled after Rocky Horror’s Riff Raff or, possibly, for the really old, the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, is played with evident relish by CBeebies stalwart Joseph Elliot. A proper, boo-worthy baddy, he is despicable without actually being terrifying. He’s here to let us know that their giant overlord intends to exact more taxes from the already penniless peasants. The kids knew their cue and booed heartily.

After this exposition, the story is as expected. Jack must sell the family cow, Sandra Bullock, portrayed fabulously by Amy Walker in her professional debut as an arsy teen. Despite not being the simpleton brother (we have Simple Simon for that, which sets up an audience-wide game but is a moniker surely only just this side of acceptable these days), Jack messes it up and comes back with a tin of baked beans.

There’s a dame, some water pistol action, the obligatory ghost sketch, a fairy and half a royal family. The production is largely smut-free and our heroes, Jack and Princess Jill, are never more than best friends – she the adventurous one, he the bookish one, in a refreshing inversion of gender tropes. It is left to the adults, Dame Trott and the King, to come together for the nuptials at the finale, which would make perfect sense to your average pre-teen.

Hayley Tamaddon, darling of the soaps and more, as the Vegetable Fairy is a Polly Pocketfull of perfect timing and belting vocals. Joe Sleight’s Jack transcends the bland with his lovely voice, and Tom Sterling had the perfect comedy vowels for his royal highness.

However, the star of the show was probably the Giant. I won’t give the game away entirely but there is an ingenious use of 3D cinema, which you have to wait for till the second half. This could have been a bit of a gimmick but was actually wonderful and had us all laughing out loud. Instructions were clear and, yes, you can wear the glasses provided over your prescription lenses.

Through my cynical eyes, it wasn’t a perfect panto. The jokes were often too cheesy to be either understood by the kids or appreciated by the adults. The cultural references about the cost of living were apposite but not very funny. Personally, I preferred the cow jokes.

The songs were largely decades old. The kids drifted a bit during the talking bits but fortunately, there was a steady stream of singing and dancing, the latter provided beautifully by the Hoylake School of Dance and, taking a break from Liverpool FC’s right wing, Harvey Elliott. (Actually, an exuberant Jack Firman Pope.)

But I kinda think my opinion here doesn’t really matter. The kids had an absolute blast, and it was a joy to witness that.


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