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Theatre Review: Jack and the Beanstalk – what a Cracker Jack!

Producer Bill Kenwright understands that the theatre is a place to laugh, and no more so than after this last year.

Basil Brush boom-booms his way through Jack and the Beanstalk. Photo: Jack Merriman

Jack and the Beanstalk
Theatre Royal, Windsor, until January 9

What are theatres if not secular temples, places where we go to think, find succour, unwind, and, as the ancient sock and buskin symbol showed, laugh and cry?

Bill Kenwright gets that and understands – better than most producers – that theatre needs to keep renewing itself by attracting younger congregations.

The great man is thus every bit as proud of staging Jack and the Beanstalk at the Theatre Royal, Windsor, as the highbrow Shakespearean plays that showcased the talents of Sir Ian McKellen during the summer and autumn.

It occurred to me, looking around this grand old auditorium as its 83rd annual panto got under way, how the local community has embraced it every bit as warmly as it’s embraced them. This perhaps has a lot to do with Kenwright’s personality.

The director Carole Todd, with her writer Steven Blakeley, has come up with a panto to end all pantos.

There are contemporary political resonances, such as jokes about Peppa Pig, nods, too, to The Generation Game and the “Queen of Windsoria”, a lot of self-deprecating admissions that the script is corny, and it deploys almost every double entendre ever invented.

It is, for all that, a dazzling kaleidoscope of colour, fun and slapstick, and, if the kids get dozy beyond bedtime, they are as likely as not to be reawakened by a sweet periodically landing on their heads.

What’s especially interesting about it is that it has in its Jack and Jill – Jay Worley and Alice Fillary – two superbly accomplished singers who, if you took away all the panto paraphernalia, would look as if they were topping the bill in a big West End musical.

Basil Brush is included in the package, as well as Anita Harris as the deliciously nasty Jemima Fleshcreep.

I give this five stars if only to prove I’ve not entirely lost my sense of childlike wonder.

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