Jack and the Beanstalk *****
A HEADLESS ghost, a giant rat, a magic chicken (the one that lays the golden eggs) and a time-machine all combined to provide the finishing touches to the annual pantomime at the King’s Theatre last night.
Even as the lights dimmed and the heavy footsteps of Dumbledore the Giant rumbled throughout the auditorium there was a buzz in the air that suggested this year’s offering from the team who brought the record-breaking Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to life 12 months ago was going to be something special.
As pantomimes go, Jack and the Beanstalk is one of the oldest and best loved. In this version, as in many before, the giant has raised the taxes his henchman Fleshcreep collects from the local villagers (the good folk of Loch Forest) to extortionate levels.
Unable to pay, Dame May McTrot sends her son Jack, to sell Daisy the family’s beloved cow at the market and, true to form, the hapless Jack swaps said beast for a bag of magic beans.
Meanwhile the giant has kidnapped the lovely Apricot, daughter of King Crumble of Loch Forest and only the humble Jack can save the day. Or so reveals Fairy McTavish, played with raunchy abandon by a sizzling Briony McRoberts.
Where this production leaves other pantomimes in its wake is in sheer scale. Lavish staging, spectacular effects, luxurious costumes and dynamic direction all allow it to power along at a breakneck pace that never falters but, equally, is never out of control. It is a testament to the skill and expertise of producer-director and writer Paul Elliott who has ensured that every member of his company is used to the full.
As Jack, James Pearson makes a vulnerable and likeable hero, but it is his mother, played by Allan Stewart, a comic genius who must surely now be Scotland’s premier panto dame, who provides the momentum - flying at one point around the stage on a motorised zimmer frame.
Teamed with Andy Gray’s bumbling monarch, a hybrid creation that is part-Buttons-part-Alderman, they form the perfect double-act, much as Fulton and Milroy did in their day.
Both are ably supported by Grant Stott, a revelation as Fleshcreep who, complete with real facial hair, has found his niche as the giant’s wickedly melodramatic slave.
Gillian Ford, as the beautiful princess, brings a tenderness to the role and demonstrates powerful and impressive vocals while clown supreme Charlie Cairoli as the Jester shows that even with the sophisticated entertainment available today there’s nothing like a custard pie in the face to keep the laughs coming.
The company is completed by Stewart McLean as the wonderfully parochial Lord Chamberlain and a troupe of bubbly dancers (including members of the Edinburgh Dance Academy) who never miss a beat despite a repertoire of challenging routines.
Add to all this a 30-foot hydraulic beanstalk and a number of old favourite set-pieces including a show-stopping "baby" sketch that is possibly older than Allan Stewart himself, a hilarious Phantom of the Opera spoof and a stirring drum routine complete with waving Saltires.
All may reflect pantomime’s variety hall origins but last night at the King’s, Elliott and company reinvented the "traditional" Scottish pantomime in two hours of pure magical escapism that on a couple of occasions even saw those in the stalls enveloped by a swirling, billowing snowstorm and never once needed to rely on the ultimate pantomime clich: "It’s behind you!"
Run ends 18 January, 2004.