There can’t be too many pantomimes that begin with a Hamilton parody, but that’s exactly how Rhiannon Hannon’s production of Jack and the Beanstalk starts. It’s unlikely that many children will get the reference, but it’s a fun introduction to an otherwise traditional panto.
Hannon’s husband Chris has been the pantomime dame at the Theatre Royal in Wakefield for 10 years now, and this year he’s also written the script. It’s clear that the Hannons love panto – all the traditional pantomime elements are present and correct, from “he’s behind you” to the obligatory audience participation. It’s fair to say some jokes fall flat (a reference to the Fyre Festival is met with a baffled silence) but Hannon’s ad-libbing as dame Tilly Tuck is an absolute delight: even when it becomes a bit too near-the-knuckle.
Of the rest of the cast, children’s TV presenter Sam Nixon is a likeable leading man, and the excellent Chris Durtnal channels both Blackadder’s Lord Flashheart and Shrek’s Prince Charming as the hapless Sir Bertie. Mark Walters’ cartoon-ish set is suitably garish, and when the giant appears as an enormous puppet, it’s a genuinely impressive sight.
The musical choices will appeal to both parents and children (mixing 1980s standards such as Elton John and Bonnie Tyler with more recent favourites including Calvin Harris) but it’s undeniable that, at more than two and a half hours, it’s a long evening. Some sections (such as the audience shout-outs) are stretched to beyond breaking point, but there’s enough in Hannon’s production to hold the attention of even the youngest panto-goer.