I must confess I was feeling slightly sceptical ahead of the Epstein’s Jack and the Beanstalk. The two headline stars were both reality TV celebrities: The Only Way Is Essex’s Dan Osborne and Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’s Thelma Madine. Neither has appeared in pantomime before and both have limited acting experience. I was also going with a 6 year old (who of course had never heard of them) and feared there might be too much ‘adult’ content.
But by the end (in fact some time before then) I was won over. The stars acquitted themselves well, and although (in the best pantomime tradition) there was the odd slightly risqué joke the script contained nothing to frighten the horses. We just sat back and enjoyed an exceptionally entertaining show. Dan Osborne and Thelma Madine both have a natural charm and charisma, and the audience warmed to them from the start. As Jack, Osborne was a likeable hero, happy to send himself up and an energetic presence on stage. Thelma Madine played the Fairy in a dazzling series of costumes, designed of course by herself (when Alison Crawford as the Princess says she’ll be getting married Thelma hands over her card). She enunciates her lines very clearly and didn’t put a foot wrong, though her delivery could maybe be speeded up in a few places.
It helps that they have strong professional backing from several Epstein regulars, notably Michael Chapman, who’s written and directed the show as well as having a major role as Jack’s mother – played in full pantomime dame mode, with a stream of colourfully acerbic one-liners. Jack’s gormless younger brother Silly Billy elicits an excellent performance from Bradley Thompson, who was also a hit with the audience earlier this year when he played a similar role in the Epstein’s Aladdin. Suzanne Collins, a popular and experienced Liverpool actress, clearly enjoys her role as the evil Fleshcreep, relishing every boo and hiss. Alison Crawford, a very capable actress with a fine singing voice, is a very appealing heroine. The voice of the Giant is provided by the hairdresser Herbert of Liverpool (another piece of celebrity casting), though he gets relatively few lines. It’s a little disappointing that we hear the character but never see anything of him – a gigantic foot or hand might have made a big impact. There is though a convincing beanstalk, and the pantomime cow is a nice touch.
There are some spectacular musical numbers, with Thelma Madine’s powerhouse performance of Ain’t No Mountain High Enough the possible highlight. The large troupe of young dancers (and in some cases they’re very young) have obviously rehearsed their moves well and the choreography is outstanding. The central storyline sticks quite closely to the familiar tale and was easily followed by the many children present, who clearly loved the show – as did the adults, who rose to give the cast a deserved standing ovation at the end. Maybe next someone will come up with a pantomime or a stage play based on Big Fat Gypsy Weddings – sounds like a good idea to me, and I think I’d go to it now…
Jack and the Beanstalk continues at the Epstein Theatre, Liverpool until 4 January. For more information, click HERE.