King’s Theatre, Edinburgh – until 15 January 2017
Reviewer: Hugh Simpson
The celebrated trio of Allan Stewart, Grant Stott and Andy Gray are front and centre in this year’s King’s Theatre pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk – a production that is low on storyline but high on childlike fun and a headlong, effervescent energy.
Stott – who continues to grow in stature every year – epitomises this in featured vocal numbers with much in the way of gyration, as well as the Edinburgh slang dialled up to 11. There is also more of an edge to Stewart’s Dame persona, with some of the interactions with the audience seeming in danger of going too far, and only saved by his and Gray’s rapport with each other and the public.
While there are some jokes aimed at the adults, they are in shorter supply than usual, with the ‘topical’ references seeming tired (although a gag about the new £5 notes is thoroughly up to date). Instead, the main thrust of the humour is distinctly childish. If you like farts, jokes about ‘wee-wee’ and mimes of a bout of diarrhoea, you will be in your element.
There is nothing wrong with pitching so much of the humour at the younger end of the audience, and anyone can enjoy Gray’s wonderful ability to entertain with just a glance, a word or a wee kazoo.
Even by the standards of a pantomime, the plot is sketchy at best. Greg Barrowman’s Jack is underused, but still gets more stage time than Rachel Flynn’s Princess Apricot, while Lisa Lynch’s ‘Spirit of Edinburgh Castle’ does not fully convince.
In the end, it is left to the comic trio to carry the show, which they do with glee. The usual ad-libs, both apparent and real, are very much in evidence, and the relish the three of them so obviously feel at collaborating with (and upstaging) each other transmits itself clearly to the audience. This is fed back to them in turn – including one point where Stott is unable to start a scene, such is the level of booing he has generated.
The dance numbers are particularly strong this year, with the ensemble and the youngsters of the Edinburgh Dance Academy responding well to Stillie Dee’s choreography. A parade of furry creatures during a version of Talk To The Animals is a definite highlight.
Rachel Flynn and Greg Barrowman. Photo: Douglas Robertson.jpg
There is plenty of spectacle in the huge Giant Bawface and a new way for Stewart to take to the air, while the costumes and Ian Westbrook’s sets are eye-poppingly colourful – even if they are a little too panto-issue Middle European to convince as the ‘Auld Reekie’ we are told is the setting.
This generic feeling, verging on the soulless, does hamper a production that feels rushed and short on some of the traditional magic. However, there is no denying the raucous energy and cheek on display.
Whether it wants it or not, the King’s panto has an important and unique duty in the Edinburgh stage, in that it is the first – or only – experience of theatre for so many. It is therefore vital that it is funny, involving and spectacular. Even with its drawbacks, this production scores highly on all three counts.
Running time 2 hours (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Saturday 26 November 2016 – Sunday 15 January 2017
Daily: 2.00 pm (except 6, 12, 13 Jan) and 7.30pm; Sun (& 24, 31 Dec) 1.00 pm & 5.00 pm
No performances 5, 12, 19, 25 Dec; 1, 5, 9 Jan
Details and tickets from: http://www.edtheatres.com/jack