Oxford street is bustling, the lights are up and snow is falling from the sky so it must be time for the annual pantomime at the infamous London Palladium. This year the motley crew are grasping onto the adventure that is Jack and the Beanstalk, and spoiler alert - the beanstalk does not disappoint.
Colour and noise greet you inside the Palladium's auditorium, thanks to Mark Walters's fabulous set design - murmurings of ‘wow' filling the air. We are quickly whisked into the fairytale world of Old Compton, a town plagued by giants but with heroes Jack and Jill willing to risk it all there is
still hope for the townsfolk. The plot ticks along nicely with familiar beats but with this being panto it is more than comfortable in taking a backseat for much of the show.
Leading this year's production is the wonderful Dawn French who is charmingly cheeky and joyful as Dame Trott (Jack's mother). Julian Clary is back as saucy as ever with dialogue of pure innuendos with a myriad of costumes that are simply sensational - as you would expect from someone playing the character of Spirit of the Beans. Nigel Havers, Paul Zerdin and Gary Wilmot also return with wonderful, infectious energy - clearly embracing the chaos and driving the classic panto bits. Alexandra Burke is given space to flex her impressive vocal skills as the evil villain, even squeezing in a short rendition of her breakout song, Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. The scene-stealer award however must go to Rob Madge, whose performance as Pat the Cow is nothing short of moo-vellous. Their rendition of ‘I creamed a cream' tugs at your heartstrings and the full chorus dance number of ‘I've got moo-sic' with Louis Gaunt (Jack), will be renowned as the stuff of panto legend.
With this being a Palladium panto it has to be a spectacle and the design team have more than delivered on their brief. At the end of act one, a massive beanstalk ascends from the centre of the stalls, reaching toward the ceiling of the vast space so Jack and team can climb upwards towards the giants - more than worthy of the raucous applause it receives. Large and bright set pieces fill the stage and king-kong-style puppet giants are genuinely impressive though their presence is fleeting. Costume designer, Hugh Durant's work is worth the visit alone. The sheer variety, scale and creativity in every single piece of costume is breathtaking - particularly in Julian Clary's wardrobe. Wow.
The music from the band is rousing and warming, making charming use of an altered ‘Giants in the Sky' from Sondheim's Into the Woods. Ben Cracknell's lighting design is superbly accurate and dazzling, working in tandem with thrilling special effects comprising bangs, smoke and a few flames.
With the trying times, we find ourselves in this winter, there is no greater tonic than spending a few hours witnessing some of the best variety talents on offer, marvelling at monumental designs and laughing at more than a few silly jokes. Joyous in every sense.
You can find tickets from £24 here. You can use the code LTR8 to get an extra 8% off.
Review: Henry Longstaff Photo: Paul Coltas