Peter Duncan’s Jack & The Beanstalk will be showing online and at an Everyman Cinema screen near you this Christmas. It is, of course, the closest some of us will get to a festive theatre performance this year. This is not a live-streamed show. It has clearly been conceived and shot specifically as a film. The production values are impressively high too. If it was thrown together quickly in response to COVID, none of that shows. We are on location, no less.
Things feel warm and welcoming immediately. Events open in a leafy suburb visiting a big busy multi-generational family home. All is well. This reviewer is not embarrassed to say he was genuinely touched by how comforting it all felt. There is a quick “why don’t we tell a story” framing device featuring an adorable child by a Christmas tree. Then, we are off into panto land which it is no spoiler to say looks suspiciously like Peter Duncan’s back garden.
If you are of a certain age, you might remember Peter Duncan as a Blue Peter presenter. He is, however, a panto supremo these days, highly regarded by those in the know as one of our best Dames. He is the writer, lyricist and co-director here too. It is no ego trip though. You get the impression Duncan just knows his onions.
This is a contemporary panto that ditches some old traditional tropes for up to date references and less stereotypical characterisation. Our guide is an organic garden fairy (Nicola Blackman) for example. The Squire’s daughter, Jill (Sarah Moss) pleasingly seems as happy leading a football chant as she does singing sweetly for her supper.
The familiar call and response set pieces and sing-a-longs feel, as you might expect, a little one-sided. We get the instruction to shout through the screen early on. Soon after, the villainous Fleshcreepy (Jos Vantyler) cocks an ear and describes our booing as pitiful. But how could he know? It is hard to shake the feeling we are only getting half the traditional panto experience. Still, needs must and each member of the large cast whole-heartedly commits to the task in hand regardless. Extra marks ought to go to Ian Talbot who, as Squire Shortshanks, throws himself into an interpretation of Swan Lake during a song that is as joyful as it is silly.
There is not an ounce of cynicism from anyone involved in this big, open-hearted and beautifully judged show. As we face a difficult lockdown Christmas, this feels a precious gift that will help you and your family put your worries… behind you!
Directed by: Peter Duncan & Ian Talbot
Director of Photography: Luke Roberts
Words and Songs by: Peter Duncan
Musical Direction by: Colin Cattle
Produced by: Denise Silvey
Jack and the Beanstalk will be available online and at cinemas from 4 December. Details can be found via the below links.