Sam Butters, Nataylia Roni and Dominic Rye. Pictures: Graeme Braidwood

Jack and the Beanstalk

The Door, Birmingham Rep


The Rep has not let us down this year with its Christmas offerings. The main house is presenting Nativity the Musical but in the smaller studio theatre The Door , Jack and the Beanstalk plays, aimed at pre school children ensuring that all age ranges in families are being reached at the theatre this year.

A fully dressed walk -way leading through to the auditorium from the foyer instantly captured the interest of the youngsters with giant mushrooms, and netted mock vegetation signalling that you are entering another world.

This is a Christmas show, not the pantomime, which has its roots in an English fairy tale. It originally appeared as The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean in 1734 and as Benjamin Tabart's morality tale; The History of Jack and the Bean-Stalk in 1807. Subsequently Joseph Jacobs rewrote it in English Fairy Tales (1890). The origins of the tale go back some five thousand years. This gives any modern adaptation maximum flexibility.

Katherine Chandler wrote and adapted this production. She has re-evaluated the story without reimagining the values. Bravely, the cast invited some of the youngest children to sit on cushions at the front of the stage for a full house Saturday afternoon immersive show. The children loved recreating the sounds of the wind and the rain. They all knew the story, and what they were expecting to see, providing vibrant interjections testing the actors ad-libbing skills to the maximum. It was amusing that one of them thought calamari an essential ingredient for a feast!

Chandler holds with the basic story. Central to this is Jack’s mum’s belief that it is wrong to steal, and Jack’s dubious trade of a cow for some magic beans. The narrative is energetically directed by Caroline Wilkes alongside a simple, bright set designed by Deborah Mingham. With an inventive device, a fishing rod, to create the beanstalk itself.

The three strong cast is superb, Sam Butters as the hapless Jack, Dominic Rye as Cian, the latter two proving adept at playing the mandolin, all three can sing. But it is Nataylia Roni as Mum who shines brightest, compelling, funny and wholesome with a fine voice.

The morality side is gently handled and never sounds like preaching, Jack’s family in penury also captures the zeitgeist of contemporary England with food banks and unheated homes.

This intimate production is a masterclass in the world of make believe. Everyday items assume extraordinary shapes, a basket becomes a cow and a ball of string morphs into a Michelin man style puppet, and the giant genuinely scared the youngest children.

Adults and little people alike loved the chance to chant Fee fo fi Fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman - perhaps the hooded giant was a French footballer? In a simply crafted land of make believe it succeeds in enthralling the young and old in the audience alike in one of the best pre- school age shows I have ever seen, and runs until Sat31st December.

Gary Longden


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