This one might almost be subtitled ‘The Miracle on Exhibition Square’. Panto dame, writer and co-director Berwick Kaler is fresh from a double heart bypass – and perennial sidekick Martin Barrass returns after his remarkable recovery from a near-fatal motorbike accident.
Jack And The Beanstalk
York Theatre Royal
Till Feb 03 @ 7.30pm (selected performances 8pm), select matinees 2.30pm or 4.30pm
As you would expect, these misfortunes are mentioned. An opening song-and-dance number sees York’s favourite Brummie AJ Powell doing the honours as Jack Manley, alongside an energetic crew choreographed with vim by Grace Harrington.
Then we tumble into the ‘verbals’ with a lively bout of teasing and wordplay.
That old heart of Berwick’s is discussed. Those 17 ribs Martin broke are given a roll call. “Can he still skip?” asks Berwick, aka Mandy Manley, aka the ghost of 38 other panto dames haunted by jokes of Christmas past. And, yes, he can.
Martin still skips, the panto still skips along the same old road. But never mind because recycling is all the rage nowadays, and Berwick’s panto manages the usual trick of being the same but different.
And, yes, there is plenty of ribbing about those ribs and Berwick’s jump-started ticker.
Off to La La Land
As for the story, shy Jack is smitten with Jill, who is of course played by Suzy Cooper, back as principal girl: 18 going on 52, as Berwick reminds her more than once.
The panto business is wrapped up in the sale of the family cow, swapped for three magic beans. Those beans have been genetically modified or something by Dr McCarb (David Leonard) and sprout the giant vegetation required by the plot.
One thousand metres up in the sky – what a long climb on that stalk for poor Jack – lies La La Land. This vertiginous loft is where Dr McCarb hangs out and to do evil.
A transformer cum prettified wardrobe acts as a splendid plot device and allows the usual mad Theatre Royal panto plot to turn crazy cartwheels.
Reviewing this show is difficult as too many spoilers unravel the pleasure. Let’s just say that, thanks to that transformer, if you’ve ever wanted to see Berwick Kaler channel his inner Tammy Wynette while singing Stand By Your Mam, then then is the show for you.
The references are splendidly bonkers, as always. The Addams Family, Stars Wars, the Acomb cow, a bit of Brexit – a touch uncomfortable, I’d say, and heavens don’t we need a break from Brexit?
The usual crew do their usual stuff with winning wit and energy. Suzy Cooper spins the garrulous charm as always.
Berwick and Martin may be damaged goods, but they engage in their customary sparring – including a smartly engineered slapstick scene that sees assorted props doing their worst for Martin.
AJ Powell rolls out his regular Brummie bumbling, and he is now as much a part of this show as the rest of them. Luke Adamson adds a charming new note with a winning turn as Dr McCarn’s assistant geek, Useless Eustace.
Not for the first time, far from the first time, David Leonard steals the show. There is a lovely irony in this: Leonard’s evil machinations are foiled every year – “Thwarted!” as he says, lisp-spitting out the word to great comic effect. “Thwarted!”
And yet the bad guy wins in the end by tucking the show under his arm and stealing away with it while doing a silly walk. Leonard’s opening song is a true delight – matched later by inspired role-spinning when he is transformed into Berwick.
A gargantuan Gration
There are two films this year. The Yorkshire Air Ambulance features in one as thanks for saving Martin Barrass, along with some smelly cheese and another role for Look North’s Harry Gration – a gargantuan Gration indeed.
The set and costumes by Mark Walters are fine and fab, a real treat for tired eyes. Elliot Styche directs his top-notch band from the pit and Richard G Jones brightens the show with his lighting effects.
Oh, and artistic director Damian Cruden co-directs with Berwick Kaler, and that probably isn’t an easy job, but everything rolls out just fine.
Swifter this year than some, less physical for Berwick perhaps – but still in full York Theatre Royal panto spirit. And some of us can’t get through Christmas without a sip of that.