Jack and the Beanstalk
Belfast’s Waterfront Hall
Running until January 4, 2015
For tickets phone the Waterfront Box Office on 02890 334455
Oh no it’s not…yes it fricken is. Panto season. Even eight-year-olds will walk in with a Jack Dee demeanour and a couple of hours later be reborn with the excitement of Christmas. Forget queues at Argos trying to wrestle the gift of the year from some child-besotted granny, forget the cats nibbling at the baubles of that spidery plastic impersonation of a Christmas tree. What Chrimbo, still got the slang on the tooth, is really about is six normal men and women pretending to act two hours of not being normal men and women.
And so we begin. We all know the story, a cow is sold off to pay debts, dim-witted Jack – and you’ll love this later – returns from Daisy in chains and a bag of beans, climbs the Beanstalk, kills the giant and all returns to law, order and happy ever after.
Well you can shove that up your Beanstalk and forget about that. Writer Patrick J O’Reilly brings us up-to-date with the familiar and expected. With most of the 330 capacity filled of the Waterfront’s hall, the audience is brought to its knees, feet, laughter and joy to the sound of kids laughing, booing and awestruck as we watch as this timeless classic is interwoven with pop-art, Milie Cyrus, Prince Albert inferences, the economic climate on house buying, banished princes, slap-stick humour, cheesy-gravy-chips, multiple double tied double entendres, leaving adults weeping with laughter and with the kids as keen as cuts following their parents hoots and toots.
There is a kid behind us, maybe two-years-old, terrified of Mr and Missus Penny Pinch… and rightly so. With Mr’s slow, almost horizontal gait, Victorian/Dickensian outfit and ghastly presence we’re geared on to loath both himself and the terrible wife. If these two ever produce a kid, they will be called Asbo and Most Likely To Succeed In Business, such are their wares. Writer, P J O’Reilly happily adapts himself to such the role while Kerri Quinn plays his despicable wife and the wholesome character of Fairy Nuff – a name I’ll never tire of writing – her benign sweet-heartened sister witch. But there are six players in this panto. Or should I write play… I hate denouncing panto to an annual repercussion of a build up of Christmas spirit and prefer to look upon it as a kid’s first of introduction to the theatre; liberal reading Guardian reader exposed from the toes to the nose I suppose.
Strangely enough, for his name to be taken as the leading role, Jack – played by Ben Kerr – plays a small part in this play. Yes, he sings a bit and is involved in 60 per cent of the scenes… equally Princess Jill, with a beautiful voice, doesn’t take centre stage: it’s a big lad from the north, Ross Anderson-Doherty who steals the show. Powerful presence, dragged up with a full-tattooed-sleeve an a bosom to fall asleep in if it was not so flagrantly waved, misbehaved and thrust to the audience, who really makes this show. His denial of all normal panto procedure, willingness to adlib at the drop of a hat and all-round likeability sees him steal the show from all others.
But, yes there’s always a but, usually dropped in CSI programmes, Rachel Murray, the cow, AKA Daisy, lends this play a surreal feel. Talking cow! Kids hafta be on their feet for this, though after watching three hours of CBeebies the other day with my niece I wonder if a talking cow will surprise the youngest of minds.
At least 10 musical numbers, one that has us hard on our feet and twisting, turning, feet never returning to where they should have been, brilliant set design, double entendres – as the say in France ‘LesBeans’, a cool cast, great production and the virility of a turkey dinner knocking at our doors, this my friends is a brilliant way to get out of shopping and in to the wonder of true Christmas.
I can do nothing but give this Five out of Five Nerds