By Abbie Gallagher
Since launching in Australia in 2013, Bonnie Lythgoe's wildly successful pantomimes have been a hit with audiences and critics alike. The majestic State Theatre is the perfect venue for such a venture as pantomimes, and the large, enthusiastic audience of all ages seemed to agree.
Jack and the Beanstalk tells the story we're all familiar with: a young man sells the family cow for magic beans which then grows into a beanstalk. Jack climbs the beanstalk to the giant's castle and defeats him. We all know the fairy tale, but in true pantomime style, there's a few twists. The giant is already terrorising the village, taxes are being raised, a prophecy must be fulfilled, and Jack Trot (Lachlan Fearing) must climb the beanstalk to save Princess Jill Crumble (Anastasia Feneri) from becoming the giant's next meal.
Anyone who's ever seen a pantomime will be familiar with the tropes. There's plenty of booing, cheers, audience interaction ("He's behind you!") and colourful characters. Which is where I should mention the standouts. Malcolm Lord as the delightful Dame Trot, Peter Rowsthorn as the inept King Crumble, Richard Reid as the King's sidekick Bumble, and Jimmy Rees of Giggle and Hoot fame who steals the show as Jack's brother Simon. Of course, special mention must go to Luke Joplin's performance as Flesh Creep, the giant's servant. In lieu of the giant, he's the real antagonist of the show and he has it all: a top hat, cane, tailcoat, moustache and bits of scenery between his teeth. The kids will love booing him every time he struts across the stage. And everyone will love the cow Daisy Buttercup who's given a personality through legs. You'll know what I mean when you see it.
The real attraction of the show is the impressive 3D sequence in Act 2. It's dramatic, fun and even managed to make me jump at one point. But that isn't the only admirable effect on stage. The beanstalk is cleverly constructed, and the sets/costumes are visually stunning. A wonderful dance ensemble of children and adults round out the cast beautifully.
The production is not without flaws however. The most glaring one being Fairy Crystal. While Lucy Durack is always enjoyable, the character is entirely pointless and contributes nothing to the narrative. Every time she appeared, the confusion at her presence was virtually audible. Additionally, most songs in the show are not recognisable with few exceptions. And most importantly, the running time is too long, especially when the lengthy improvised segments are taken into account. Opening night went for three hours including interval, and upon exiting the theatre many children were asleep in their seats.
Bonnie Lythgoe's pantomimes are hits for a reason. While there are still kinks to iron out, the fabric is intact. Bringing such theatrics to Australia should only be celebrated, and I look forward to seeing how this form of theatre continues to grow and develop under Lythgoe's fine direction. This is great fun for kids and adults alike and some of the best school holiday entertainment this season.
And Paul in the front row deserves a medal.
Photo Credit: Robert Catto
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.