"Get your magic beans here!"
by Avril Silk for remotegoat on 06/12/18

Christmas is coming and the goose isn’t exactly laying golden eggs and sometimes the world seems unrecognisable with divisions that seem insurmountable. One of the best antidotes I can think of is a visit to a traditional pantomime, where the Principal Boy is dashing and brave (eventually), the Principal Girl is pretty and kind, the Villain is villainous, the Dame is lightly bawdy, the Fairy is twinkly, the Village Idiot is gormlessly lovable, the Giant is gi-normous, the Cow does a jig, the puns are dreadful and the villagers sing and dance as if their lives depended on having the hugest smile and the maximum enthusiasm. What’s not to like?

If that sounds like the tonic you need to banish the winter blues, I’m delighted to tell you that ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ at the Northcott Theatre, Exeter, ticks all the boxes and more. Thanks to costume supervisor Pippa Ebbage and her team the actors look good, with excellent costumes (eye-wateringly lurid in the case of Dame Trott, played with saucy aplomb by Director and script writer Steve Bennett). I especially liked the Grand Finale, with its opulent theme of red and gold.

Alexander McPherson’s set is full of charm and character, effortlessly (!) accommodating numerous location changes and the need for the full company to often appear on stage. Lighting designer Russell Payne and sound designer Ben Harrison ensure that we see and hear everything, with no obvious technical blips – and that’s quite an achievement with such a technically ambitious show! Musical Director Paul McClure, Harry Dowell and Michelle Hiley accompany assuredly the excellent singing, (particularly that of the well-matched Principal Boy and Girl, Jessie May and Victoria Lucie), and enhance the humour with appropriate noises off. (If they’d like to drown out the dodgy joke about the stool I’d be grateful).

Emma Stansfield’s delightful apprentice Fairy Mistletoe earns her wings as she tackles Mark Jardine’s thoroughly hissable Fleshcreep – I liked their interplay between verse and prose. The imposition of increased taxes by the rich and greedy lends a topical edge to the villainy. Mistletoe is sort-of assisted by Noel White’s endearing Silly Billy, who establishes a good relationship with the audience, as does Steve Bennett’s Dame. As last year, I thought there was scope for more – Steve has the ability to hold and tease a willing audience with his quick wits and deliciously barbed insults. I love wordplay so thought the confectionery and milk sequences were great fun as did the other audience members I spoke to, though one friend thought the script was sometimes over-wordy and another wanted fewer songs.

A special word of praise for the Young Chorus, led by Jaz Franklin. They gave it their all… and their exuberance was infectious. I loved the Rocky Horror routine – congratulations to choreographer Suzie Boyle.

Did I mention the impressive beanstalk and Dan Ball’s blood-curdling Giant, designed by Rebecca Lee? (Oh no, you didn’t!) It all adds up to a really good seasonal night out for all the family. Oh yes, it does!

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