Theatre reviews: Jack and the Beanstalk | The Wizard of Oz

Perth Theatre’s Jack and the Beanstalk is a panto made for the time we live in that also honours the tradition as well as any Christmas show you’ll see this year, writes Joyce McMillan

Jack and the Beanstalk, Perth Theatre ****

The Wizard of Oz, Tron Theatre, Glasgow ****

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I’m walking on sunshine, woo-oh – and don’t it feel good! It’s a great opening number; but Barrie Hunter, Perth’s master panto-maker, is one of those brave enough to face up to the fact that it doesn’t always feel good any more. In his new, vivid and hugely enjoyable 2022 version of Jack And The Beanstalk, climate change has come to Middle Perth; and it’s a measure of Hunter’s brilliance – as dame, writer and director of Perth pantos – that he manages to recognise the most serious issue facing us all, while also creating a heart-lifting evening of theatre, true to the traditional Beanstalk story, and full of talent, fun, and Christmas spirit, with a real sense of community thrown in.

Kirsty Findlay and Barrie Hunter in Jack and the Beanstalk at Perth Theatre

As the story starts, evil villain Baddie is in her mountain lair, planning to evict all the villagers of Michtymuckel to make way for a new wave of fossil fuel developments. Meanwhile, down in the glen, the villagers are distraught because increasing sweltering heat has melted all the snows on Ben Mucklemichty, destroying the local tourist trade, and finishing off Dame Lettie Lott’s petting zoo, to the point where even Maggie the Highland Coo is having to be sold off.

When Lettie’s adventurous mountaineer daughter Jack exchanges Maggie for a bag of magic beans, though, things take a more cheerful turn; and in no time at all, the whole extended family – including Jack’s daft brother Jock, lovely local vet Jill, and some gorgeous white mountain hares – are to be found on top of the previously unclimbable Ben Mucklemichty, beginning to reverse the damage done by generations of Baddies.

I’m not sure whether it’s wise to suggest to today’s children that all the harms caused by climate change can be fixed by pressing a big green button, as Jack does here. Yet it is the season for Christmas magic, after all; and what’s clear is that Hunter has assembled a terrific panto team at Perth, headed by his own ever more confident and formidable Dame, and featuring the super-talented Kirsty Findlay as Jack, with Ewan Somers as Jock, Kimberly Mandindo as Jill, and Helen Logan as his indispensable villain. The songs and choreography are joyful, Maggie is the best dancing coo of the season, Becky Minto’s sets and costumes are perfect, and the family fun and audience participation rolls fast and furious; in a panto made for the time we live in, that also honours the tradition as well as any Christmas show you’ll see this year.

There’s only one young Dame in Scotland who can possibly surpass Barrie Hunter for sheer cheek, swagger and boundless creativity; and that’s the inimitable Johnny McKnight, terrifyingly gorgeous queen bee of the annual panto at the Tron. This time around, he is none other than Dorothy, a mature version of the great Wizard of Oz heroine, blessed with three kids back home, but still youthful, intrepid, and rocking her checked blue gingham dress with merry abandon.

With a cast of only seven to play with, writer-director-dame McKnight and designer Kenny Miller, in inspired form, nonetheless create a thoroughly convincing modern Trongate version of The Wizard Of Oz, bereft of the Disney songs for copyright reasons, but with terrific alternatives supplied in style by musical director and composer Ross Brown. And with Tyler Collins as the scarecrow, Lauren Ellis Steele as the Tin Wummin, and Julie Wilson Nimmo as the Cowardly Lion, McKnight’s Dorothy prances along the Yellow Brick Road in style, whipping up the audience participation to a frenzy, and delivering some of the best winter fun – for adults as well as kids – in 21st century Scottish panto land.

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Jack And The Beanstalk is at Perth Theatre until 31 December; The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz is at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until 8 January