Jack & the Beanstalk

"“Fee-fi-fum-fo, if you need a laugh, go see this show!”

Fee-fi-fum-fo- if you need a laugh, go see this show! Panto season is back with beans at Opera House Manchester (oh, yes it is!) as Jack and the Beanstalk takes to the stage. This year’s festive fayre stands tall against the plethora of seasonal stagey treats on offer this Christmas time and it strives hard to reach the highest of heights. 

Manchester’s own comedian turned musical theatre star, Jason Manford, leads the cast as our protagonist - Jack Trott, in love with a princess and penniless. He is joined by Britain’s Got Talent finalist and comedy impressionist, Ben Nickless, as his brother- Silly Simon and notably, drag sensation, Myra DuBois as the camp villainess, Myra Blunderbore- the giant’s wife. Supported by Samara Casteallo as ‘The Spirit of the Beans’ and, West End leading lady, Emma Williams as ‘Princess Jill’, the star cast and talented ensemble shine as we journey with them from the quaint village of Mancunia, up the magical beanstalk and beyond. The vocals hit higher than even a giant could reach! A standout duet between Manford and Williams in Act 1 raised the roof with their robust harmonies and powerhouse belts.

Written by Harry Michaels (with additional material by Manford and Nickless) and especially successful when paired with musical supervision from Gary Hind, the book bares moments of triumphant hilarity. Locally sourced gags are interspersed between a host of laugh-out-loud jokes centred around current affairs- and nobody is safe. Quip after quip: Hamilton, Manchester’s infamous Canal Street and two former hosts of This Morning are burned by panto fire as the audience laugh and gasp in equal measure. There are moments, however, where certain jokes outstay their welcome and are overstepped in giant proportions. (When a minority group becomes the butt of the joke, it’s probably time for a re-write.) As for the plot, it trots (sorry) along in the style one comes to expect from that of a pantomime. Although efforts are made to maintain pace and narrative continuity, the story is ultimately hindered by overly self-indulgent scenes; positioned to showcase the range of talents on stage but, in doing so, cutting the plot at the root. This leads to panto staples in the form of slapstick song and dance routines being wedged awkwardly between scenes and given the afterthought treatment- as entertaining as they are. 

That aside, the audience are treated to a visual spectacle. Special FX by The Twin FX create a chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ as magic happens right before our very eyes. Beanstalks grow into the rafters, cars fly above our heads (Manford’s not as young as he used to be) and there are glittering pyrotechnics aplenty (low noise, too, which is a lovely, inclusive touch.) 

Speciality costume design and construction by Mike Coltman brings the stage to life with a vivid, high-camp energy. DuBois’ outfits are wickedly gorgeous, and the curtain call designs are nothing short of spectacular. Combined with set design by Ian Westbrook and lighting design by Richard G Jones, visually, the production is quite epic. (Although a quick steam of the drop cloths wouldn’t go a miss…)  

All in all, tonight’s performance entertained the masses, provided some much-needed festive escapism and left the audience leaving the theatre with a giant grin on their faces. Whether you’re 4 or 94, there’s something in this show for the whole family and I’m certain it will continue to wow audiences throughout the festive period before the beanstalk falls for the final time on New Year’s Eve.

This show was reviewed on the 7th December 2023.  Jack and the Beanstalk runs at Opera House Manchester until the 31st December 2023.  Tickets available here: Jack and the Beanstalk Tickets | 2023 Panto at Opera House Manchester | ATG Tickets

Review written by Lee Gregory


Photo credit: Phil Tragen

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