Jack! review – giant juvenile cast bring joy to fresh take on panto

Chickenshed theatre, London
This Jack finds the beanstalk in an arcade video game – and there’s much more going on, with a young, 200-strong supporting ensemble

This twist on Jack and the Beanstalk from Chickenshed Theatre has the spirit of Christmas woven right into its foundations. Set in an arcade in a British seaside town, it sees our young hero (played by Ellie Carroll) thrust inside a Beanstalk video game to face some gigantic trials.

There’s a 700-strong rotating cast of mainly young children with a few adults to support them – at the preview I see, the “red rota” cast (more than 200 of them in total) are performing. No matter that the script by Dave Carey can be muddled and ambling at times. It would take a heart of stone not to be drawn in by this inclusive marvel of a show.

Jack! is joyously random: there’s a dance competition, children dressed up as famous monsters’ relatives and even tech support to offer a helping hand when things go wrong. But there are nods to the current cost of living crisis too as Jack’s family are living in poverty and they rely on food banks to get by. The miraculously talented Carroll adds an undercurrent of worry to the central portrayal: Jack is even ready to sell the prized game console for enough money to buy the family’s next meal.

To get such a large group of people, of any age, to appear so coordinated on stage is an art in itself. But in Jack! you needn’t worry. With a vibrant and sophisticated stage design (by Andrew Caddies) that constantly reveals hidden secrets, and a chorus of never faltering gusto, it is a Christmas gift that keeps on giving. This Jack is giant steps above the rest.


Anya Ryan

The GuardianTramp

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