A successful pantomime has to appeal to so many people on so many levels. We require a spectacle, sweets, interaction between stage and audience, sweets, jokes, dancing, a nod to local and topical issues and more sweets. I think that this year The Oxford Playhouse has totally pulled it off with Jack in the Beanstalk. Hats off to Steve Marmion, the writer and director.
The first character we meet is Fairy Nuff (Rebecca Lucy Taylor) who sparkles in a very contemporary way complete with pink leather jacket and wand which multi tasks as a drumstick. Her persona is more funky big sister than the usual over earnest, slightly sickly fairy we are used to. She sets the tone for this production – a pantomime for today, with a giant who wants to flood the economy, talk of Brexit and Tinder, and a Muslim drag queen!
As well as Jack, Jill and Dame Trott, we get some bonus characters in this production. The incredibly dressed baddie, Judy Hench, played by Amrou Al-Kadhi has a faithful French assistant called Harri Co’vert (Alessandro Babalola), and the rather stupid but loveable Jack (Ricky Oakley) has a clever sister- Smart Simone, brilliantly played by Emily Burnett. Paul Barnhill excels as Dame Trott, and was last seen as Abanazar in Aladdin here two years ago. There is a wonderful sketch between Dame Trott and Simone where they both spout famous Shakespeare quotes using different types of bean. Very funny and very clever.
I missed not seeing the band in the pit, but understand that this takes up valuable seating space so they played offstage. Musically, there is a fantastic mix of rap, songs from musicals and pop as well as specially written songs for the show, and the audience lapped it up by clapping and singing along. It was also beautifully choreographed by Stuart Rogers and the children’s chorus had obviously been chosen for their dancing. I don’t think I have ever seen the children in a pantomime look so professional.
Spoiler alert- we do get to see the giant and he may remind you of a certain American ex TV show host who is fond of tweeting! Also watch out for an endearing cow called Jagger (the reason for the name does become clear). This is truly a pantomime for our time, but a feel good piece of escapism that leaves you feeling on cloud nine rather than worrying about the state of the world. And there are plenty of sweets! ★★★★★ Karin André 3rd December 2017
Photo by Geraint Lewis