A review by Julia Gasper
Oxford Playhouse has put on a lot of excellent pantomimes over the past years, but while the lead performers in this one – Ricky Oakley as a handsome, nice though not-terribly-bright Jack, and Rebecca Lucy Taylor as the Good Fairy – are both very professional and credible in their roles, they have to struggle against a script that is not really all that inspired.
In the original Jack and the Beanstalk story, the giant was supposed to have got rich by robbing people, including Jack’s father, but does an audience of children aged 4-10 really want to hear a long list of companies that reputedly don’t pay their corporation tax? Or Jack’s sister give a lecture on the re-distribution of wealth and Marxist theory? “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” This was Jack and the Beanstalk Goes to London School of Economics. It was a nice touch to have Jack rescue his childhood sweetheart from the giant’s lair, and her jealousy of the Cow might have been funny if it hadn’t been turned into a long spiel about psychology and relationships.
Brexit jokes are inevitable, and I am quite inured to those, but we needed to have much more of the sort of straightforward humour provided by Jack’s mother Dame Trott (Paul Barnhill) who reeled off a string of silly puns about beans, stalks and vegetables. That’s more like it! When it came to the giant himself, he had an unmistakable resemblance to a modern head of state. They could have chosen Robert Mugabe, or Kim Jong-Un, or a host of other dictators well known for murdering, jailing, beating up and terrorizing their citizenry, but instead they chose an Ogre who is very unpopular in the London School of Economics.
While the children’s chorus who sing and dance on stage must be given credit, and the costumes are imaginative, frankly none of the songs or music are really that good, and the production tries to make up in decibels what the score lacks in inspiration. I know that moaning about health and safety is a bore, but honestly, there are long-term risks of exposure to excessive amplification, which can bring on hearing loss in later life. Children should not be subjected to it or brought up to regard it as normal when it is dangerous.
Going to a pantomime with your family is one of the traditional treats of Christmas but despite the best efforts of the performers, this is not really one of the most outstanding the Playhouse has ever put on.