Review – Jack and the Beanstalk, Barbican

Saturday 15 December 2007

If the West End Whingers were to write a panto, it would probably be something like this. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Somehow Phil had managed to get out of seeing Jack and the Beanstalk at The Barbican.

You might think that rather strange, as its writer – Jonathan Harvey – is actually one of Phil’s Facebook “friends”.

Indeed you might have supposed that that this “friendship” might have placed upon Phil a clear obligation to go along and cheer/boo as appropriate.

But if you had supposed that, you clearly have no understanding of what it means to be a friend of Phil.

So Andrew went along with a couple of real friends – Daveonthego and Handsome Phil (who is actually not that handsome, but as a moniker it does serve to clarify instantly which Phil one is referring to).

Now, while gay writers have turned out to be saviours of classic British TV (Russell T Davies of Dr Who, Harvey of Coronation Street) panto is clearly a different kettle of fish altogether.

Last year Mark Ravenhill had a bash at panto for the Barbican and it really didn’t work. So you might have thought the Barbican would drop the idea this year and leave it to the Old Vic to try and make a success of gay posh panto. (While we’re on that topic: what’s with the reviews for Stephen Fry Cinderella? Four-star reviews with three-star ratings and a seemingly universal subtext which says: “Marvellous. Very clever. Very funny. I enjoyed it immensely but I’m a bit worried that other people might not.”)

Anyway, no such equivocation in the reviews for Jack and the Beanstalk: by consensus it is a genuine turkey: a flapping, flightless, gobbling thing, doomed to be consumed by people who don’t care for turkey but choke down the dry, tasteless fare anyway because it’s Christmas.

Now, interestingly, you won’t really get this impression if you click on the “reviews” link on the Barbican’s website. In fact you’ll see just one quote:

‘A belter of a Christmas family show…great fun.’

but then if you look closer, you’ll see that it says underneath.

“The Daily Mail (on Dick Whittington, bite06)”

This is clearly a mere oversight on the part of the overworked people at the Barbican (perhaps they are helping out the sole attendant on the cloakroom? They weren’t on Thursday, but they should have been) so the Whingers have decided to be uncharacteristically helpful in providing some quotes for this year’s panto to save the Barbican marketing department the effort:

“Signally fails to scale the heights that its title character does” The Stage.

“Proves yet again that formulaic entertainment is best left to those who have practised the formulas” Evening Standard

“Giles Havergal’s production lumbers on like a reluctant bovine on its way to the slaughterhouse [and] desperation sets in” The Guardian

Anyway, for what it’s worth, this panto seems utterly misjudged and – one feels – rather hastily penned.

“Are the peasants revolting?”
“No, they just need a bit of a wash.”

“Is your milk cold?”
“Of course. Our cow’s a Friesian”

Surely even provincial amateur panto gags are usually better than this? Certainly the kids at the Barbican on Thursday seemed unamused.
Some of the cast struggle valiantly to do something with the material (Andy Gray as Dame Dolly Deluxe and Little Britain regular Steve Furst as Beastly Boris) but it’s battle they can’t win.

And it surely has to feature the worst pantomime cow costume ever seen on the professional London stage.

Yes, if the West End Whingers were to write a panto it would unfortunately be something very like this: woefully over-reaching yet half-arsed, not nearly as funny as it thinks and written at the last minute in a bit if a rush.

3 Responses to “Review – Jack and the Beanstalk, Barbican”

  1. Sam London Says:

    The Telegraph liked it for what it’s worth. And Dick Whittington last year was alright. And it’s all too too late for me. Had booked tickets ages ago. Thanks to your review I will be staring nervously at the kids wondering if they will laugh at all.

  2. Saw this today with the housemates. We grabbed the cheapest seats possible last minute, and I guess it was worth the £12 – Hackney Empire did far better and charge far less. Looking forward to Stratford East and the Old Vic.

  3. I often don’t have much time for Steve Furst (I never got the point of Lenny Beige, for instance), but I think he’s kinda heroic in this, giving it more brio and commitment than it deserves.

    I also found it interesting that, although Stephen Fry’s filth in Cinderella is much more copious and blatant, the nudge-nudgery of Harvey’s comparable material makes it feel somehow the coarser and more vulgar.

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