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Jack and the Beanstalk review at Oxford Playhouse – ‘brilliantly engaging theatricality’

Ricky Oakley and Jagger the Cow. Photo: Geraint Lewis Ricky Oakley and Jagger the Cow. Photo: Geraint Lewis

Oxford Playhouse’s Jack and the Beanstalk boasts the best cow this panto season. Jagger’s (Tegan Bannister and Daisy Elwin) milkshake brings all the boys to the yard (and a hilarious moo-sic mashup dance-off). In fact, the songs are a highlight of Steve Marmion’s production.

He and Gabriel Chernick give us some fabulous remixes of contemporary pop favourites, which the cast belt out as they dance Stuart Rogers’ impressively intricate routines.

The plot itself is a little threadbare. The Giant has kidnapped the children of Oxford to work as slave labour in his factory in the sky. It rests on Jack’s shoulders – who’s a few beans short of a casserole – to bring his friends home.

Drag queen Amrou Al-Kadhi gives a show-stealing performance as the Giant’s evil hench(wo)man, Dame Judi Hench, with ambitions eviler than Amazon.

Brilliantly engaging theatricality distracts from niggles with the script. The company hypes the children in the audience to fever pitch with showers of sweets and invites them to pelt ‘beans’ (foam balls) at the stage.

For the grown-ups, there’s genderqueering and some political commentary on Brexit and corporate tax avoidance; the Giant, when he finally emerges as a puppet wearing pyjamas, looks suspiciously like Donald Trump.

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Steve Marmion's pantomime is a sugar rush of a show with political bite