York Theatre Royal climb their way to success with this year’s magical pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk!
We all know the classic fairytale of Jack in the Beanstalk – however throw in a talkative cow, an abundance of zombies and an award-winning dog and you have a glimpse into the York Theatre Royal pantomime this year.
Jack and the Beanstalk is at York Theatre Royal from Friday 8 December 2023 to Saturday 7 January 2024.
Once again the show is written by Paul Hendy, directed by Juliet Forster and produced by the Evolution Productions team. Whilst the plot – as is the case with many pantomimes – did feel loose and lacked direction at times, it still delivered an evening of fun and entertainment for the whole family to enjoy.
Throughout the production, we were met with the usual political jabs, social referencing and of course the annual Hull jokes! But this familiarity is what draws the audiences back each and every year and deems it a success, so you can’t knock their trusty formula.
At the heart of this comedy is Robin Simpson back as the loveable Dame Trott for his third year at York Theatre Royal, and long may his reign continue! With no romance within this production, it may feel like something is missing – however the Dame’s relationship with last night’s audience member, or should I say victim, Paul, was maybe all we needed.
Mia Overfield and Matthew Curnier as Jack and Billy Trott brought the innocence and likability to the stage as they played sweet siblings. Curnier was a crowd favourite with his constant silliness and Overfield played the perfect heroine.
Now mooove over Dick Whittington’s trusty cat or any other familiar panto furry companion, as there’s a new sidekick in town: none other than Dave the Talking Cow played by York’s very talented Anna Soden. Not only was she udderly wonderful to watch with her dramatic rendition of ‘I’m Just Dave’ (better known as the Barbie smash hit ‘I’m Just Ken’), she also showed her delightful vocals, which were some of the strongest in the production.
Completing our principal cast lineup was Eastenders and Goodness Gracious Me star Nina Wadia and CBBC legend James Mackenzie, better known for his role as Raven. Wadia was the ditsy and sweet fairy who encouraged a warm reception with each burst onto the stage, and Mackenzie stole the show as he gave us the ultimate pantomime villain! ‘Let the challenge begin’, well it was an easy one as he made being a baddie look effortless work through his rugged appearance and powerful Scottish accent – he was a clear favourite.
And let’s not forget about the other four legged friend, whose arrival was anxiously anticipated: the beautiful border collie Zeus. An unlikely dream double act with Dame Trott, Zeus had their starring moment and added to Robin’s already hilarious persona as they shared the stage, and the few hiccups could easily be forgiven. Don’t work with children or animals? Do if it’s Zeus. Anna Auster should be proud of her training and how wonderfully it has paid off.
For a pantomime with ‘beanstalk’ in the title, the climax at the end of act one did feel slightly underwhelming, and throughout the first half the staging felt rather simplistic at times. However this improved in the second act with beautiful light up clouds and gigantic set pieces.
I also found the technical elements really shone and helped make the pantomime feel modern and fresh, with the ‘Drone of Love’ being a highlight for audience interaction. And the use of a screen helped me find my new favourite boyband ‘Dros’ – One Direction time to step aside!
The costume design (Ella Neal and Amy Chamberlain) was superb, especially with Dame Trott – who transformed into a new work of art with each flamboyant stroll onto the stage. We got to see Clifford’s Tower, a full tea party for one, and – dare I say it – my favourite Dame costume to date, as she walked out as Elton John, piano included, which of course was accompanied by an abundance of musical jokes.
The music featured a wide range of genres, performed by the fantastic band led by musical director Robert Louden. Whilst the opening number and following scene felt drawn out, it did give us a warm welcome to the village of Giggleswick and make us feel part of the gang.
The finale concluded the production perfectly, as the majority of the audience took to their feet to dance along to the classic ‘Walking on Sunshine’. The super six-strong ensemble provided excellent dancing, with choreography from Hayley Del Harrison, and they also had their own individual moments to show us their talent and sometimes…show us a little bit too much (you’ll know once you’ve seen it!). With a relatively small pantomime cast, they did their best to fill a large stage and did so with an abundance of energy.
One thing is guaranteed with this pantomime: laughter. Whether it’s inappropriate jokes flying far over the children’s heads, or the brilliant physical comedy and slapstick scenes…watch out for the big red balloon! I guarantee there is a joke in there for everyone.
This foot-stomping, rollicking-romp of a pantomime is showing at York Theatre Royal until the Saturday 7 January 2024 – don’t miss out on the fe fi fo fun! Tickets start from £15 and are available from the York Theatre Royal website.