At its best, panto can be a joyful shared experience in which the performers are truly present with, and constantly responding to, their audience. In Exeter Northcott’s production of Jack and the Beanstalk, however, the stage feels distant. It doesn’t help that the tall barrier surrounding the orchestra pit puts a literal wall between the stage and the first few rows.
The problem, though, lies more in the actors’ failure to properly listen to the children’s responses – there’s a feeling that nobody is prepared to deviate from the script in order to enter into a meaningful dialogue with the audience. It means sections like “it’s behind you!” and the Comic’s introductory patter feel one-sided, like our absence would make little difference to anything happening onstage.
There are moments of real entertainment – Steve Bennett as the Dame is by far the most generous performer (as well as writing and directing), and a set piece based on an improbable number of confectionary-based puns is great fun.
Jessie May, as Jack, excels in the songs, her powerful voice satisfyingly combining pop and musical theatre techniques. An inflating beanstalk and an audacious 10 foot tall giant costume are both impressive things to behold.