'Jack and the Beanstalk' review — an all-star pantomime justifies the beans
There are giants in the sky! And there are performing giants galore in Jack and the Beanstalk, the latest installment in a Palladium pantomime tradition that celebrates the best of old-school British humour with enough razzle dazzle to light up the West End.
Once again, director Michael Harrison sprinkles pantomime magic in the home of variety entertainment. A thinly-veiled story — in this case, Jack sells his cow for five magic beans and ends up with a beanstalk in his backyard, only for the gang to rescue King Nigel from the giant — acts as a ruse for filthy jokes, vaudevillian skits, and silliness. When the audience holler, clap, and cheer their way through two and a half hours of unadultered joy, it doesn't matter if the story could actually be told in 10 minutes; this lavish pantomime delivers the goods.
Julian Clary is back as the loose “Spirit of the Beans”, parading around the stage in a variety of Hugh Durrant’s spectacularly designed bean-related outfits (French, runner, Mexican, Heinz) and enough phallic jokes to supply a lifetime of Christmas crackers. He keeps the story pulse going alongside “budget Miriam Margolyes” Dawn French as a vulgar Dame Trot, the squeaky-clean Paul Zerdin as silly Simon, Gary Wilmot as Queen Nigella, and Nigel Havers as the “principal character” King Nigel.
Hallelujah then to Alexandra Burke, who plays a vampy, vicious giant's wife Mrs. Blunderbore in her Palladium debut — a trio of animatronic giants are her “bad boys” now. West End stars Louis Gaunt and Natalie McQueen delight as Jack and Jill, and Rob Madge a-moo-singly chews the scenery as Pat the Cow, a bovine who dreams of West End stardom. Gaunt and Madge delight in a “Crazy For You” inspired routine; a spritely ensemble dressed as dancing chickens performing Karen Bruce's showstopping choreography is a particular highlight.
Now in its sixth year, the pantomime suffers slightly from its self-awareness and leaning into stale territory. If you’re a newcomer, chances are you won’t get jokes that rely on moments in previous years. You’ve probably seen the skits in a previous iteration too: Paul Zerdin does a five-minute ventriloquist set, Gary Wilmot performs another "list song" (this time listing all the ailments and their respective remedies), and more. But again, this is pantomime, and pantomimes rely on similarities as a comforting way to tell a story. And we all need comforting on these cold winter nights.
There's added special elements this year, in the form of Jack climbing up a 40-feet plus beanstalk that soars up through the rafters — sit in the centre stalls and you may be closer to the beanstalk action than you'd first expect. But ultimately, this year's Palladium pantomime plays into its institution-level status. To quote Stephen Sondheim in Into the Woods, it justifies the beans.
Jack and the Beanstalk is at the London Palladium through 15 January. Book Jack and the Beanstalk tickets on London Theatre.
Photo credit: Jack and the Beanstalk (Photo by Paul Coltas)
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