Jack & the Beanstalk

"The best panto in the land has left me full of beans!"

Something I look forward to each year is my return to the Birmingham Hippodrome for Panto.  I like to think of it as my first festive treat of the season, and this year, with Brummie Panto Legend Matt Slack at the helm for his 10th consecutive year, Jack and the Beanstalk definitely left me full of beans!

Produced by the Pantomime powerhouse that is Crossroads Pantomimes, Jack and the Beanstalk is a classic story of defeating the giant and saving the day.  Stepping into the role of Jack is relative newcomer Alexanda O’Reilly who gives a confident and energetic performance, with the impressive act 1 closing scene elevating him to new heights….quite literally!  With incredible vocals and dancing ability, O’Reilly is certainly one to watch and a fantastic addition to the cast.

Now, in my opinion, Birmingham Panto is nothing without our very own adopted Brummie, Matt Slack who plays brother of Jack, Jake…..this year!. Once again, the witty one liners, the comedic strength and general brilliance cements the fact that the Hippodrome is extremely lucky to have this seat filler back year after year and it’s a true honour to watch a master at work every Christmas.  Not only does Matt impress with his performance, but he is also instrumental in the writing for this Pantomime which shines through.  He has his finger on the pulse when it comes to raising laughs and his A to Z of celebrity impressions is sheer genius.

Also, back for another year on the Hippodrome stage is Andrew Ryan, this year playing Dame Trott.  I tried to count the amount of outfit changes throughout the show but admit to loosing count! They do say a Dame never appears on stage wearing the same outfit twice and she certainly has an outfit for every occasion.  Ryan is also a firm favourite with the audiences and works extremely well next to each cast member.  Treating us to some incredible vocals and wowing in the many extravagant and colourful costumes it’s quite true that ‘there is nothing like a Dame!’.

Another member of the cast, back for their 5th year is self-professed lazy cow, Doreen Tipton, this year in her ideal role….a lazy cow!  Played by Gill Jordan, Doreen is a complete force of fun and has the audience in stitches with her Black Country wit and charm.  A particular highlight of the night was a reworded version of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ from Les Miserables and with some pretty incredible vocals from the Titan of Tipton, Doreen captivated us all.

Now, as Brummie legends go, the glorious Alison Hammond has returned home to star as ‘The Spirit of the Beans’.  Arriving on stage to rapturous applause from the audience, its clear that she is truly loved in her hometown and offers us a fun time with many hilarious moments involving Matt Slack, including a nod to her time on Strictly Come Dancing, The Great British Bake Off and a long, but funny conversation about her day job.  It’s clear that she is a natural on stage with a warmth that is perfect for Panto season. In contrast, the villain of the piece, Mrs Blunderbore, is played with a wicked streak by Samantha Womack. Looking dazzling in her incredible costume, Womack revelled in the many boos she received and even encourages it, much to the delight of the children in the audience.  No stranger to performing on a big stage, she was every inch the perfect baddie, notwithstanding the impressive vocals and captivating stage presence.

As this production of Jack and the Beanstalk was the big London Palladium panto last year, there is no real surprise that we are treated to a ginormous inflatable beanstalk that completely fills the front stalls at the end of act 1. Now, to see this in the flesh was something else.  It’s no mean feat to install something so big and I feel a massive shout out should be given to the people behind getting this up and running.  I must also commend Alexanda O’Reilly as he climbs this monumental construction every night (sometimes twice a day) without pausing for breath…..ah the joy of youthfulness! 

The impressive installations don’t end there, as The Twins FX have created the most incredible giants who terrify the audience with their sheer size (well they are giants after all), and what better song to accompany their arrival than ‘Giants In The Sky’ from Into the Woods, one of many musical theatre references that always gets a gold star from me!  The ensemble cast also provided us with many tight and slick routines with choreography by Ashley Nottingham, thus completing the fabulous cast of 2023/24.

I could wax lyrical for pages about this masterful creation, however there is so much to talk about that you may well miss the King’s Christmas Speech if I go on for too long.  It’s safe to say that thrilling, funny and first-class Pantomime is firmly at home at the Birmingham Hippodrome, so please pay them a visit before the 28th January 2024 when the beanstalk will be deflated for the final time!

This show was reviewed on the 19th December 2023.  Tickets available for Jack & the Beanstalk here: Jack and the Beanstalk – Birmingham Hippodrome

Review written by Emma Rowley

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Photo credit: Paul Coltas

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