Jack and the Beanstalk, an easy to write and very popular choice for Christmas panto. It’s a story that allows enough customisation to the underlying plot to be updated to be relevant, whether that’s done subtly or not.
So where to start with this version. The giant takes a backseat to the unelected, female Prime Minister who’s main scheme seems to be to raise taxes. She’s helped by her Minister for Money, her *plot twist* unforeseen love interest, proving that everyone has a chance at redemption. Unless you happen to be a man born with gigantism, in which case we’ll all cheer when you plummet to your death. The underused giant never truly feels like the villain; he only takes the princess to eat her when she yells slurs at him, he seemed content to stay on his cloud the rest of the time. It also seems to be the Prime Ministers idea to say the giant wants gold, in order to raise taxes, he comes across as a truly misunderstood person. He probably only lives on his own on a cloud because average sized people insult him unjustly. His death is a tradegy that everyone celebrates, perhaps Doncaster Beancaster is just a place unaccepting of those who are different. I’m truly surprised the Prime Minister isn’t run out of town simply for being a woman in a position of power.
The Prime Minister, played by the rather talented Esther-Grace Button (@EgButton), has the best voice of all the cast and commands a lot of presence when she’s on the stage. She’s also the clear actual villain of the piece, and is an intentional parody of Theresa May. It’s mentioned numerous times that she wasn’t elected and just volunteered to take over when the King died until the Princess turned 18 (more on this later), she also takes delight in taxing whatever pops into her head, especially when it makes life hard for Jack and his mother (the Dame). This has to be some sort of criticism of benefit cuts and taxing the poorest in society, though the multi-million pound Cast theatre where this was performed is fairly new, so Doncaster clearly isn’t doing too badly for itself.
There was also a pretty major plot hole at the start which would have solved every problem faced before it happened. The Prime Minister was only in charge until the Princess turned 18. The Princess decided to yell insults at the giant the day before her 18th birthday. If the Princess had waited 24 hours then she could be Queen, fire the Prime Minister and declare war on the giant. I assume this is why a Princess and Prime Minister aren’t traditionally included, they don’t make a whole lot of sense.
Long story short, the giant dies, the Princess turns 18 and marries Jack while the Prime Minister steps down and finds love with her coworker. This is interspersed by various pop songs (with subtle word changes) and non-subtle innuendos by the Dame. Now don’t get me wrong, I love an innuendo as much as the next person and she’s entertaining enough, but her costumes are just bland. The entire performance seems to be plagued by a costume issue, the less said about the cow (I sincerely doubt the costume will last through the whole run, it was already torn in places when I saw it) the better.
Even this Donald Trump cow hybrid is better.
This brings us onto another issue that the people I spoke to pointed out: the band. Musically they were very good and I understand that for mid to low budget plays then actors have to double up and do other things, but making the band visible seems to have been a big oversight. Surprise costume changes simply can’t happen if we can see the actors IN COSTUME playing instruments prior to them coming onto the stage. The Dames underwhelming costumes never came as a surprise because we had already seen her playing in the band…in her costume.
Now the bit you’re all waiting for. The thing highlighted again and again in every interview. The British Sign Language integration. Was it a good idea? Yes. Did it work? No. Standard plays have an interpreter sat at the side of the stage, which is fine, but I suppose it’s distracting, an added cost and doesn’t feel terribly inclusive. We should be constantly striving to be more inclusive with new ideas and so in theory integrating BSL into the play is a great idea. Other plays have experimented with partial integration and having the characters use Sign Language themselves, but this pantomime promised to take it to a whole new level, and it was disappointing. The character allocated this task was Fairy Fingers. Carry on reading once you’ve finished sniggering at the name. She communicated solely in Sign Language and hovered around the characters translating everything they said, though never truly felt part of the performance. Apart from her initial introduction then she was barely referenced by the other characters, to the point where I was questioning whether the other characters could even see her. Honestly, she was a glorified translator. Put a tutu on a translator, call her a fairy, have her stand on the stage and ignored by the other characters and you have this. Massively overhyped for what it actually was, but an idea that should be commended none the less.
It wasn’t all bad though! There was some amazing choreographed dancing by some local talent, I’m a sucker for anything synchronised and in time so it appealed to me greatly. They definitely deserved some credit and it would have been nice if they’d gotten a little shout out.
To sum up:
- Esther-Grace Button
- Choreographed dancing
- Comfy seats
- Visually stunning building
- Partially integrated British Sign Language
- Partially integrated British Sign Language
- Uninspired costume choices
- The cow
- Seeing the band
- The Princesses singing
- The unjustified murder of the giant
Jack and the Beanstalk is running from Friday 2nd to Saturday 31st December at Cast, it’s a nice family friendly pantomime and if you’re in the Doncaster area then it’s well worth a look.