All of the pantomime essentials!

Jack and the Beanstalk at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East

This re-vamped version of Jack & the Beanstalk contains all the pantomime essentials: laughter, fun, music, magic, adventure, plus a sprinkling of naughty innuendos for the adults. Join Jack and his seven foot bunny rabbit, Dizzy, on an adventure of a lifetime. Unleash your inner child –they deserve it. It’s Christmas! At Theatre Royal Stratford East.

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HELLO BOYS AND GIRLS! It’s that time of year again – “the most wonderful time of the year” – and the Panto scene is brimming, buzzing, and “brrrap”ing , especially in Stratford, where adults proudly outshout children. I know that because I was one of them. WARNING: no Grinches or Scrooges allowed! It’s a pantomime; one must embrace the silliness and the phantasmagorical… and as I am ever the professional critic, this show is ‘the bomb’.

To those of you wondering; no I haven’t accidently swallowed any magic beans… I am merely indulginging my fancy for fun and marvelling in merriment at the best pantomime I have ever seen. The Theatre Royal, Stratford East, certainly knows its stuff when entertaining the masses over the festive season; its reputation for ‘best panto in town’ is completely deserved – and here’s why…

Paul Sirett’s (What’s On Stage Best Off-West End Production Come Dancing, Olivier nominatedThe Big Life, TMA nominated Reasons to be Cheerful) re-vamped and modernised version of Jack and the Beanstalk has many exciting twists and turns. For a start, there’s a tap dancing chicken, a terrifying spider-organ, and there’s also a seven foot rapping bunny rabbit called Dizzy. (OH NO THERE ISN’T!) Oh yes, there absolutely is, and guess where he is…? This is the culmination of imagination at its very best.

Yes, Jack’s adventure sits within the realm of the familiar – in order to help his testosterone-laden mother pay the rent, Jack sells Marilyn (the family cow) to a pair of VERY EVIL robbers, who convince him that five magic beans are worth more than cash. (BOO…!!!) Low and behold, the beans are pretty damn nifty (as far as beans go), and a colossal beanstalk grows overnight, its height reaching a very strange land beyond the clouds where treasure awaits. (OOOOOH…!!) But on the downside, there’s a humongous giant that has a yen for ‘the blood of an Englishman’. Jack’s English. There’s tension. I won’t spoil the ending…

Dawn Reid directs with complete understanding of what a pantomime audience wants. This has just the right amount of magic and sparkle. The cast have enough energy among them to light every Christmas tree in London. Gemma Salter, as cutesy Lucy, opens the show with a bang, and the auditorium is effortlessly conducted in a series of song. Before the curtain’s even flinched, we’re one happy family singing at the top of our lungs. Vlach Ashton is utterly hilarious and totally endearing as adorable Dizzy. The kids love him – manic screams of “DIZZY, DIZZY, DIZZY!!!” echo around the auditorium. The adults are just as bad: “whooping” at his raps and roaring with laughter at his Ninja-like bunny moves. Pantomime Dame Michael Bertenshaw is a fabulously funny Mrs Trott; whether she can be described as grotesquely feminine or gently masculine, I’m not sure… either way, she’s got all the charm of a typical Dame. And she’s not afraid to sort out a wedgie.

Designers Jenny Tiramani and Harriet Barsby have to be commended for such an imaginative and awe-inspiring set. The giant set me a-trembling, it really did. The costumes transformed the actors into a range of creatures, and don’t even get me started on Marylyn. What a cow!

This treat of a show contains all of the pantomime essentials: laughter, fun, music, magic, adventure, plus a sprinkling of cheeky double entendres for the (supposed) adults, which are subtle enough for the kids, who spend the most part sitting in wide-eyed wonder. You will most certainly get the chance to join in – there will be a sing-off, and you might lose your voice in a bid to convince Jack’s mother that DIZZY IS REAL!!! Ah hem… sorry… but he is.

Get your party hat on and check out this imaginative spectacle – even if you’re ‘without child’. Do it for your inner child – they deserve it. It’s Christmas!

Date reviewed: Thursday 13th December 2012
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