Review: Jack and the Beanstalk @ Exeter Northcott

Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum, I hear the sound of a pantomime!

Sitting in the middle of the Northcott theatre last Wednesday evening, the Christmas atmosphere consumed me. Merry Xmas Everybody by Slade was blaring out and an elderly group of women came back from the theatre’s bar with mulled wine. There truly is nothing quite like going to see a pantomime at Christmas. On paper, the premise of a pantomime doesn’t appeal to everybody. Bad jokes and amateur acting often seem like more of a chore than entertainment. In honesty, throughout the rest of the year, I would not feel inclined to watch a pantomime. However, in the festive season, there’s something about the cheesy performances that makes the jolly attitude come out in businessmen and children alike.

Written and directed by Steve Bennett, Northcott’s Jack in the Beanstalk has the usual pantomime setup of the dame, the protagonist, the baddy, the damsel in distress and the village idiot. Within moments, the performers acquired authority, getting the audience to chant and mock the villain. The song selection gave a range of ages their chance to boogie with The Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling”, Nat King Cole’s “Smile” and even an impressive rendition of The Greatest Showman’s “A Million Dreams”.

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 Having not been to see a pantomime without being in a family setting, my housemate and I were sceptical as to how cringe-inducing we would find watching the performance. We weren’t wrong to anticipate the cringe, but the script is self-aware, meaning that you laugh along with the jokes that you know are coming, rather than curling away in agony into your seat. I would highly recommend purchasing a glass of wine or two from the bar and then you certainly will have no reservations in cheering and booing along with the rest of the audience.

Despite being generally thought as merely appealing to children, watching a panto as an adult opened my eyes to the hidden smutty jokes that go over the kiddies’ heads. The dame’s provocative outfit positioning and lusting over the villain made for some of the most comic moments of the show, as the adults exchange mischievous grins to the ‘adult’ references.

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My favourite moment of the pantomime came towards the end when Bennett invited two children onto the stage of ages 5 and 6. He interacted with the young boy and girl and even managed to get his son ‘flossing’ on stage. The panto then concluded with a thought-provoking speech by Steve Bennett who sought donations, explaining that the Northcott Theatre is a charity. Bennett reminded us of the importance that theatre has on children and adults alike, an art that we should continue to invest in, giving youngsters and adults alike the opportunity to express themselves.

There was something very gentle about the whole experience. As with all pantomimes, you are familiar with the tale, and things never get too tense. In the midst of a pile of seemingly never-ending deadlines and stresses about the adult world, there was something charming about seeing a large auditorium full of people chuckling about a grown man being chased across the stage with little children dressed up as ghosts.

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The panto certainly got my housemate and I in the festive spirit as we left the auditorium, singing the catchy tune of Michael Bublé’s Haven’t Met You Yet that, although being performed early on in the show, had managed to stay in both of our heads for hours.

Overall, I think the pantomime is a great bit of fun for an escape from work and the gloomy December weather. Even for a couple of hours, it’s wonderful to look around and see a group of people of all ages consumed by a world of glitter and showtunes, rather than worrying about the woes of adulthood and general life.

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I would recommend getting a couple of pints and heading to the Northcott Theatre to catch Jack in the Beanstalk before Christmas to get yourself in the festive mood. It even finishes with enough time to make it to TP Wednesday afterwards!

-Cesca Getty

Photo Credits: Mark Dawson

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