Jack and the Beanstalk, Salisbury Playhouse

IF you are holding out for a hero,  you need go no further than Salisbury. The Playhouse’s Jack is everything you could want – handsome, brave and he sings like an angel (not surprising when you read that actor Sam Harrison is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music).

Mind you, he doesn’t impress you as a giant-killer when you first meet him – in fact, with his candy-colourfed rompers and baker’s boy cap, you suspect he is actually his usual panto brother Simple Simon (missing in Andrew Pollard’s inventive new script) as he stumbles and stutters around the stage.

Playing Jack as a naive romantic rather than a cocky Jack-the-lad is just one of the many tweaks that Pollard has made to the traditional story of Jack and the Beanstalk, and they all work a treat.

There is a delightful fairy Fortuna, “Bean-seller and fortune teller”, played by Jemma Geanaus, a talking, dancing, singing, wise-cracking Pat the Cow (versatile Laura Crowhurst) and a feisty Princess Jill (Tanya Shields) who wants to challenge the bone-crunching giant whose henchman Nightshade is squeezing the poor folk into poverty and starvation with his tax demands.

Steven Serlin’s Nightshade is a purple goth fiend, a rock god turned bad, sardonic and wily, snapping and snarling at the lively youngsters in the audience. He’s scary, but he won’t frighten the youngest children.

JJ Henry is hilarious as King Crackpot, feeble and terrified of the giant, but harbouring a secret, and distinctly un-royal, yearning for the quick-witted Dame Trott.

This is a show where every principal gives a star performance – there is usually one or more under-written roles, but here each part has been written with care to create a memorable character. And the giant is impressive – half as tall again as the leggy Dame Trott and booming out his evil plans.

Richard Ede is an exceptionally good dame. He’s very funny, he’s attractive but not in a raving drag queen way, and he’s exceptionally quick at picking up on audience comments or the occasional fluffed line or missed cue. Designer James Button has given this poor widow a 1950s dairy-maid look, to match her 1950s dairy parlour.

The swings and young performers are well choreographed (by Nicky Griffiths) and director Ryan McBride keeps the whole show moving at a spanking pace.

Three cheers to whoever thought of using that Queen classic, Bohemian Rhapsody, for the big Act One finale. It’s great to have a show that has both clever rap and familiar rock songs – and a joy to watch the kids doing all the movements for the audience participation song, the Village People’s YMCA.

Panto ought to be camp and colourful and this show has it in spades. It is on until 7th January – book now or you may be too late to climb the beanstalk and face the terrifying giant.


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