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Jack And The Beanstalk: These Shoots Are Made For Walkin'

Gerry Corner enters an udder world at the Liverpool Playhouse

Written by . Published on December 6th 2012.


Jack And The Beanstalk: These Shoots Are Made For Walkin'

THEY lost the plot in the Playhouse pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk – These Shoots Are Made for Walkin', but such detail did not appear to distress an exuberant first night crowd.

This is about as far from the traditional tale of Jack and the giant as you can go, indeed the ogre barely gets a look-in, but then the annual rock 'n' roll panto is also a long way (the other side of town) from its spiritual home at the Everyman (perhaps we'd better not go there – well, we can't, can we?)

 The jokes come thick and fast; some old, some new, some borrowed and a lot that were blue

The Playhouse had its advantages, among them the chance to use the wires to help Jack scale the beanstalk (at least some things are sacred). “I can't stop. It's almost as if I'm being pulled up.” shouts Jack, neatly making a comic virtue of his unmissable assistance.

Adam KeastLucky gold top: Adam Keast

Aside from his ascent of the overgrown bean plant, little else is familiar. A fully grown Jack (Toby Lord) falls instantaneously in love, which is handy for the writers if a tad unlikely even by fairytale standards.

The rest of the show loosely (and I mean loosely) concerns the efforts of said Jack Daniels, boos-free, straightforward hero material, to free his new love from the clutches of one Cuthbert the Cad (Griffin Stevens). And a lot of other stuff happens which I couldn't begin to fathom.

Much of that other stuff is centred on rock 'n' roll panto veterans Adam Keast and Francis Tucker whose chemistry has been a pillar of the production's success in recent years. Keast is the milkman (what did I tell you?) and Tucker the more familiar Dame, in this case Jack's mother, Mary from the Dairy.

Goodness knows what the scene in which Keast and Tucker dress as a squirrel and his nut, respectively, had to do with anything, and yet it made for possibly the most charmingly amusing exchange of the evening.

The jokes come thick and fast; some old, some new, some borrowed and a lot that were blue.

Keast is Ernie, who drives the fastest milk cart in the west – of Kirkby – and his dialogue is straight from the Benny Hill School of Suggestive Comedy. Accordingly, Keast milked it (“Would you like a delivery, ma'am? I could pop something through your letterbox”), while wisely avoiding any punchlines involving cream.

Be warned, there's a lot of this Carry On, and while you can safely assume it would all go over the heads of the youngest watchers, one wonders what the 12-year-olds were making of it.

One thing that didn't go over anyone's heads were the water pistols, a stock in trade of the rock 'n' roll panto, which Keast and Tucker wielded among the aisles, frequently at short range, to shrieks of delight. It was one of many moments directly involving a willing audience.

Jack And The Beanstalk 2012 Aretha Ayeha and Toby LordAretha Ayeha and Toby Lord

Whatever the vintage of the jokes, there were enough genuine laughs, some of them throwaway –  “I've just popped back”, announces Betsy Bubbles; some of them plain silly – “Chocks away” says astronaut Ernie when he's ready for lift-off. Then, as the ground control operative is distracted by a box of Milk Tray, “I said 'chocs away!' ”

This being a rock 'n' roll panto, you must expect music, but perhaps not quite so much, and it would have been nice if it had felt like an integral part of the story, not just a break for a song.

Other than the occasional face pulling and chest clutching, they were pretty much straight up and down renditions from the last 50 years – Jumpin' Jack Flash, The Final Countdown, Skyfall, et al – whose only purpose was to set the audience's feet tapping (or fingers drumming, depending on your point of view).

 

Jack And The Beanstalk 2012 Griffin Stevens %26#38%3B Marianne Benedict %26#169%3B Robert DayGriffin Stevens and Marianne Benedict 

Call me pedantic but when Ernie's motorised milk bottle was adapted for space travel, this ought not to have been a cue for Keast to sing “I've got a silver machine”. Not even a gold top, there was nothing remotely silver about a pint of semi-skimmed with a green cap. “I've not got a silver machine” would have been more accurate.

 

But Keast and crew can only play what's in front of them and this celeb-free team worked for each other all night like their lives depended on it, taking up backing instruments and vocals when they were not centre stage, so much so it feels wrong to single anybody out. Crisp and accomplished, they did not miss a note between them.

All of which would explain why the feet-tappers formed the large majority. And to balance the humbug, one veteran and respected member of Liverpool's musical scene declared Keast's rendition of Pretty Woman “a show-stopper”.

Like Tucker, the production was a little overpadded in places and could have lost 20 minutes. But such is the sheer volume of one-liners and the breathtaking vitality of the cast, that there was very little looking at watches.

Carla Freeman %26#38%3B Toby Lord %26#169%3B Robert Day Robert DayCarla Freeman and Toby Lord

Panto is nothing without the audience and one of the very youngest amongst it provided the moment of the night as Alana helplessly held a perilously ill Jack in her arms.

“Kiss him,” came a tiny cry from the audience. Actress Aretha Ayeh handled the moment perfectly. “Shall I?” she answered. And she did. And, of course, it worked.

For a show like this, you need to be up for it, and this audience was; up on their feet for it much of the time.

At the end of the night they were urged to rise for one last number, which is one way of guaranteeing a standing ovation. To be fair, they earned it.

7/10

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Peter Coyle

i wish i had been there…it sounds like something joyous and anarchic...the way the article is…

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Anonymous

Couldn't agree more. This is a super piece. Ken would be proud that not a penny of public money was…

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Reader Xxx

The review was indeed brilliant - congratulations Angie. The show must have been very special -…

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Claudia Boulton

Thanks Angie for your brilliant piece, so glad you wrote it! Now i know what was going on! Being in…

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