Jack and The Beanstalk: West Yorkshire Playhouse (until 21st January 2012)
For many of the young audience members, Mike Kenny’s version of Jack and the Beanstalk will be their first experience of the theatre – lucky them.
Mike Kenny always leaves room for imaginations to flourish - he never patronises his audience, he just tells a darn good story, with enviable wit and skill, but I think Mike and director Gail McKintyre, had their work cut out tackling Jack & The Beanstalk. It’s a pretty linear story, and it’s so well known. Take the panto elements out (as is the tradition for the WYP Christmas Show) and what’s left?
A stroke of pure genius, that’s what.
From the moment we meet 4 people-sized chickens scratching about in the foyer (Beyonce, Rhianna, Gaga and Leona… ) to the realisation that these chickens were to be our storytellers (“and then THIS happened…”) squawking, singing and dancing their way through the plot, as well as doubling for all the characters, we knew we knew we were in safe hands – and that, to me, is the key.
Chickens are hilarious at the best of times (I used to keep them as a kid and spent hours mimicking them – not a lot to do on a farm on the Isle of Wight) and choosing to tell the story from their point of view is inspired. And the 4 actor-musicians who play the chickens are mesmerising. As my 10 year old put it:
‘being a chicken for 2 hours takes great perseverance’
I can only look on in awe.
And Jack… oh Jack.! Nathan McMullen is really superb. One of those actors you just can’t take your eyes off. His Jack is a bit player in the story of his own life, ageless, understated, completely reactive, naive and very, very funny. Kung-fu kicking the chickens to keep them at a distance, slow motion dancing whilst dying in a frying pan, – I seriously had to laugh a lot less than I wanted to for fear of looking like some sort of shrieking harridan.
I love Mike Kenny’s work, I always have – as a director, a writer, and leader of several youth theatres, I sit very firmly in his camp - it’s all about the story, how you choose to tell that story and how complicit you make the audience in the telling of that story. Mike Kenny’s version of Jack & The Beanstalk has it all, as far as I’m concerned… and Gail McKintyre’s direction gives us strong and simple physicality, (the giant arrives on stilts – bigger than the other characters, which is all that is needed – and hilarious into the bargain), beautifully simple but magical shadow play, catchy songs and the necessary participatory dancing. Thank you for that – we did dance, and we laughed so much.
I could go an about this show all day. But suffice to say it was a gorgeous slice of story telling, the audience I was part of that day loved it (including my 10 year old and 7 year old sons who have written their own reviews here) – I’ve since heard that it got some rubbish reviews, that people don’t ‘get it’. I find that astounding – who are these people? Certainly not the target audience. Certainly not anyone who understands that good theatre, nay, excellent theatre, is simply about story telling with a twist, about letting the audience fill in the gaps, about entertaining whilst leaving room for you to take part in the way you want to… and, in this case… about putting five brilliant actors on the stage and letting them do their job.
I haven’t even mentioned the beanstalk – I don’t want to spoil it. But Designer Barney George knows how to make an entire auditorium gasp!
Just go and see it.