Thursday 1 January 2009

Jack & the Beanstalk, Greenwich Theatre, Crooms Hill, south London

Unlike many of its rivals, the annual pantomime at this modest theatre is performed by a cast of unknowns rather than C-list celebrities. Written by the multi-talented Andrew Pollard, who also plays Dame Dotty, Jack & the Beanstalk is as much a musical as a pantomime. It is peppered with toe-tapping rock and pop anthems from the seventies, such as Grease Lightning and a fine rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, with lyrics cleverly tweaked to fit the pedestrian plot. Jack (Matthew Waine) can sing well, while the rotund fairy and cook (Linda John Pierre) has a strong, soulful voice. The costumes and props are also a cut above the usual pantomime fare - the Boogie Nights medley at the beginning of the second half is performed in a dazzling array of Afro wigs, while the puppet of the giant is the size of a small house. Impressively, his huge fists slam the table when he gets upset.

Tired jokes and borrowed catchphrases
While the cast and script have charm and warmth, most of the performers, when they aren't singing, lack charisma and comic delivery. The Dame and the king (Paul Critoph), who seems to be modelled on Stephen Fry, trot out a succession of tired jokes and borrowed catchphrases, such as Catherine Taite's rapid-fire "whatever". Although the Greenwich Theatre, with its bare brick walls, is spartan, the seats are spacious and relatively cheap. Through a discount for families, you can get seats for as little as £13.75 apiece. 7/10