Friday, February 23

Jack and the Beanstalk (Online) – St Helens Theatre Royal

Once upon a time there was a theatre called the Theatre Royal in St Helens, who always delighted the people of Merseyside with a seasonal pantomime. Suddenly, a devastating pandemic stopped the Theatre Royal in their tracks. Finally, a canny production team saw a solution to their big problem…

A pantomime at Easter? It always seems a little improbable because a pantomime is so quintessentially Christmas. But when reality is as crazy as ours, Jack and the Beanstalk is the much-needed slice of the ‘old normal’ we all need. And it is no mean feat. The Theatre Royal and their production team have dared to do what some regional theatres fear to risk, and it has paid off.

The story follows the same old tale we all know and love; cash- strapped Jack sells off his mother’s beloved cow in return for magic beans from an evil giant’s personal assistant, Fleshcreep.  After planting the beans, a massive stalk grows, and up goes Jack, his mother, his brother Simple Simon and Fairy Mary to rescue his true love Princess Jill from the giant. There’s some hilarious plot twists, incredible dance numbers and gags galore. Pantomimes thrive on live audience energy, and while initially we do miss the rows of children booing and cheering without restraint, the luscious production values and traditional pantomime sets and costuming really do make up for not being sat in the theatre. Close ups are a bonus. Being that near to the action is a treat few of us get in real life.

Reese Sibbald’s who also stars as mischievous Simple Simon (a sure to be favourite with the kiddies) has written a well-tuned script, following the perfect equation of panto comedy. Yes, there was some silly humour for the kids, but not too many that it was patience trying. And yes, where some cracking one liners for the grownups.

And, if production values were not enough, the cast are also incredible. The Theatre Royal have really struck gold. Jack, played by Timothy Lucas is everyone’s favourite Merseyside lad. Whether he’s ringing in the laughs or tearing up the stage with his brilliant song numbers- Tom Jones’ ‘ It’s Not Unusual’ is a standout. Jamie Greer has the Dame act nailed as Dame Trott, with dry wit and subtle delivery; it’s a refreshing change for any panto. While Jenna Sian O Hara delights as kindly Fairy Mary, her outstanding vocal performances really seal the fairy deal.

The second act begins with another explosive performance of ‘Queen of the Night’ from Abigail Middleton, who has really kept up the stamina while terrifying all the girls and boys at home as the evil and deranged Fleshcreep. Expertly maintaining the delicate balance of being both evil and hilarious, she’s the perfect rival for Olivia Sloyan, who is sublime as Princess Jill. Is there a better pantomime princess out there? Possibly not. Meanwhile, the true unsung heroes of the pantomime are the dance company, who rise to the challenge of every dance number with Nazene Langfield’s infectious choreography. What a delight.

Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s not Shakespeare; Jack and the Beanstalk is definitely a children’s show, so if you’re needing a couple of moments in peace, this is the perfect tonic for keeping cooped up youngsters occupied while you do some much needed life admin. But, if you did use this panto as a child care decoy, you’d only be missing out on the fun. As a very grumpy grown up without children, a one time regular frequenter of St Helens Theatre Royal, and a connoisseur of many a North West pantomime when I lived in the area, watching from 230 miles away was the perfect start to Easter.

Playing online until the 11th April 2021, book your tickets HERE!

Reviewer: Melissa Jones

Reviewed: 2nd April 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★

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Playing online from 15th – 20th June. Click link to book NOW!