Jack and The Beanstalk
Tivoli Theatre, Dublin
"It's good old traditional panto!" Sammy Sausages enthuses, and his enthusiasm isn't misplaced. Unlike other pantos that increasingly aim at pleasing jaded parents as much as their children, Sean Gilligan's production is aimed squarely at the kids. There's none of the knowing smuttiness and crude humour with which other panto scriptwriters lard their stories as if they're afraid of being out of touch.
But there are enough pop culture references in co-producer Kark Broderick's script to keep things on-trend and plenty of jokes that both kids and adults can appreciate. Ron Aldi (Karl Bowe) leaves Windmill Cottage because he's homesick. "He was at home all day and I was sick of him" snorts Buffy (Rob Murphy), Jack's mum.
The man-hungry Buffy is a terrific pantomime grotesque, a weird cross between Danny La Rue and a Japanese Kabuki performer, her thickly painted face as contorted as her bizarre brand of Dartspeak twisting her expressions comically out of shape. Bowe is an excellent, confident drag artist, completely at home on stage, and clearly enjoying himself.
Whether Bryan Murray, making his panto debut as the Evil Baron trying to evict Buffy, Jack and Sammy from Windmill Cottage, is enjoying himself isn't so apparent, but he makes a very debonair panto villain, and performs a stylish version of 'One Way Or Another' with the giant in his castle atop the Beanstalk.
The songs, with musical arrangement by Ross O'Connor, are nicely varied and charmingly performed. Jack's (Sean Carey) duet with girlfriend Jill (Michelle McGrath) has just the right sugar-content while Nadia Forde is in fine voice as Cupid, who has to get the pair to fall in love in order to win her fairy wings.
It's rare to find a panto as well-choreographed as this. Paul Ryder, performing with four other principal dancers, keeps a strong current of energy surging through the show, the medley of money songs opening the second act being particularly good. A big part of the energy is provided by the young dancers from the Atomic Stage School.
Everything in Gilligan's production is in perfect balance, with just enough of those all-important unscripted moments without which panto is mere formula. Buffy likes nothing better than to get down from the stage in her spangled heels. At one point she jumps on someone using a mobile phone in the front row, and turns the thing off.
Be warned, if you're a dad, don't sit near the front -- that is unless you like over-affectionate drag queens in your lap.