REVIEW: JACK AND THE BEANSTALK (New Wimbledon Theatre) ★★★★

2017 is certainly an interesting year for Wimbledon Panto. It is the first year that Pantomine giant Qdos Entertainment have taken over producing the annual Panto, so it would make sense for this year’s show to be Jack and the Beanstalk.

In a year of firsts, Jack and the Beanstalk marks the first Panto performance of comedian Al Murray as Jack’s brother… Al, as well as the Olivier award winning Clive Rowe making the move from Hackney to ATG theatres for the first time. In the full house on press night it was interesting to see a few more adults in the audience than previous years, perhaps pulled in by the lure of Al Murray’s close the bone comedy.

And they weren’t disappointed. Doing a slightly festive and toned-down version of his Pub Landlord routine, Murray has the audience in stitches by playing up to stereotypes and riffing on modern Britain. Some excellent audience interaction shows off Murray’s quick witted nature for the adults but it’s his sheer energy and joy at being on the panto stage that has families cheering him on. Here is one star who is clearly doing this for the love of it, not just for the money.

Similarly, Clive Rowe is effervescent in his role as Dame Trot, poor Jack and Al’s long-suffering mum. Full of cheeky, but never crude, innuendoes, Rowe is a seasoned pro at this. Flirting with audience members (including a fabulously timed Bob… who is a builder), belting out the big numbers and looking fabulous, Rowe has more than a twinkle in his eye and is full of Christmas cheer. As Jack Laim Tamne is all big smiles and tight choreography, while John Jacks’ villainous Fleshcreep lives up to his name with an excellent cackle and enough hand wringing to have the audience booing nice and loudly.

Wimbledon is often referred to as the Home of London Pantomime and looking at Ian Westbrook’s set it’s easy to why. With a ginormous beanstalk, a good ol’ fashioned cow and a fantastically surprising helicopter (that’s right, a blooming helicopter!) there’s no shortage of exciting set pieces.

However, it’s a testament to how thin the plot line is that the majority of the second act is taken up with 3D effects. For the first half of the effect, the audience are excited and shrieking with delight, after about 2 minute it becomes a little tiresome. In the same vein, the music choices for Jack and the Beanstalk were completely off kilter; one Motown number is interesting, a whole show of it drags the performance down in muted applause. Of all the Pantos I have seen, this ending had the most lack-lusture audience reception at the finale and it was all because of the poor song choices.

But don’t let this dissuade you! For once, the star casting in a Panto really is worth the bang for it’s buck as I think you would be hard pushed to find a more enjoyable show this Christmas season. Al Murray and Clive Rowe absolutely smash it and it is only the poor song choice that keeps this production from being 5 stars.

Reviewed by Roz Carter
Photo: Craig Sugden