Last year the Barbican staged its inaugural pantomime, Dick Whittington, penned by the oft-controversial playwright Mark Ravenhill. The success of that production sees panto return to the cultural venue in 2007, this time written by Beautiful Thing scribe Jonathan Harvey. Matthew Amer was among the first night audience for Jack And The Beanstalk. Oh no he wasn’t. Oh yes he was.
Ah, pantomime, where goodies are good, baddies are bad, and the jokes are worse. This year at the Barbican, Harvey, who also counts TV sitcom Gimme Gimme Gimme among his writing credits, has dished up a panto with enough festive cheese to satisfy the most fervent turophile.
For those unaware of the story (are there any?): poor boy falls in love with rich princess, rich princess gets captured by evil giant, boy sells cow for magic beans which grow in to towering beanstalk – this one exuberantly pokes right through into the Barbican’s foyer – boy climbs beanstalk, rescues girl and everyone lives happily ever after.
Harvey’s panto has all the pre-requisites. The truly bad jokes come thicker and faster than treacle in a Formula 1 car, with a generous dollop of innuendo for the adults. The performers work hard to involve the kids in the show: Ashely Campbell is a high-energy Mad Matty; Helen Baker gives a clean cut, brightly smiling, never-fazed Jack; Andy Gray’s Dame Dolly is a little bit lewd, a little bit crude, but knows how to work the audience; and Steve Furst’s Beastly Boris is an evil, creeping panto cross between the Childcatcher and John Lennon – all he really needs is love.
The real coup for this production, though, is procuring the songwriting talent of Stiles and Drew (Mary Poppins, Honk!), who have delivered a number of hummable, auditorium clap-inducing tunes, from the electro-pop of second half opener When I Think Of Melody to the rousing rally cry of the beanstalk battler, You Know You’re Going To Climb It.
Jack’s adventure is full of bad jokes, tunes, sweets, more bad jokes, pop culture references, cringingly bad jokes and smiles. At the end of the evening, when all is well again in Jack’s bog-standard town, everyone, including the audience lives happily ever after.
Jack And The Beanstalk plays at the Barbican until 12 January.