Jack and the Beanstalk, Lyric Hammersmith, London
Monday 07 December 2009
It's been 30 years since a traditional pantomime was put on at the Lyric Hammersmith, and the theatre has marked the occasion by commissioning four playwrights: Richard Bean and Che Walker, both alumni of the National and the Royal Court, along with Joel Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, who have written for the Edinburgh Fringe.
But all these cooks have produced a thin and greasy broth strewn with the corpses of jokes that have died of old age and with new ones that should have been strangled at birth.
Simple-minded Jack says he was booted from the Scouts for trying to wake up his sleeping bag and returns from the "meerkat" (as with other jokes, the authors assume hilarity will result from a TV name-check) with a flower for making pancakes. He also thinks that Christopher Columbus discovered Acton. (In another example of local humour, the cast bewail Hammersmith's traffic jams, clearly a touchstone of comedy for six-year-olds.) The goose puppet that lays the golden eggs is "the coolest goose since Mother Goose got an I-Pod". Worse than such fatuity is a betrayal of mood and character. The giant, another puppet, has evil electric eyes and a cavernous mouth from which Patrick Stewart's voice snarls threats.
To this dreary-silly dialogue the four have added smug pronouncements on nutrition. The baddie is made of sugar, which children should not overeat: "Everything in moderation!" The brash songs, hits for Gloria Gaynor and Dolly Parton and Beyoncé, presumably have new lyrics, but few of them can be understood, especially when Natalie Best (Jack's love interest, Jill) is bawling wounded-animal vowels.
The director Patrick Marmion has brought none of the traditional-panto virtues – charm, impishness, magic – to this feast of fast-food leftovers, and his actors are irritating and cold, especially Martyn Ellis's dame, confusingly called Wendy Windsor and decked in Union Jacks, who seems to be talking to himself. The two exceptions are Javier Marzan as a likeable and vivacious bull (the script's one touch of wit has him cross-dressing as Jack's cow) and Sean Kearns as the villain's hapless henchman. Tall and authoritative-looking, he is soon revealed as a big, goofy baby, rebounding cheerfully from insult as well as from being whacked on the head with a frying pan. A shame his sweetness isn't typical of the show.
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