Jack and the Beanstalk at the London Palladium review: uproarious panto packed with comic vulgarity

Dawn French in Jack and the Beanstalk at the London Palladium  (Paul Coltas)
Dawn French in Jack and the Beanstalk at the London Palladium (Paul Coltas)

Fee fi fo fum, I smell an uproariously cheesy pantomime that will brighten up London for the next five weeks. Director Michael Harrison is the man behind another festive Palladium production packed with star names of a certain vintage and punchlines with a similarly antique tinge.

Panto regular Julian Clary dominates every scene he pops up in, as various incarnations of the Spirit of the Beans. The veteran comedian boasts a withering, waspish put down for every occasion and showstopping costumes designed by Hugh Durrant, although an open goal was missed not including a World Cup gag when Clary pitched up as a Napoleonic French bean.

Clary is a tough act to follow but “budget Miriam Margolyes” Dawn French makes a good fist of Devonian Dame Trot. A fright-wigged Alexandra Burke channels Tina Turner and the Wicked Witch of the West as villainous Mrs Blunderbore, Gary Wilmot as Queen Nigella makes merry with some marvellous tongue twisters, self-mocking posho Nigel Havers as King Nigel of Old Compton in the Turn references our new monarch with lines about his “blasted pen” and ventriloquist Paul Zerdin delivers as milkman Silly Simon.

Heroic Jack Trot is played by Louis Gaunt, Princess Jill by Natalie McQueen and the comic vulgarity level is kept high, or should that be low, by Rob Madge as wannabe musical star cow called Pat. Elsewhere the tradition of topical humour peppering proceedings is maintained with jokes about Liz Truss, Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock, though French’s limp soggy bottom quip is well past its tell by date.

 (Paul Coltas)
(Paul Coltas)

The minimal plot involves King Nigel being kidnapped and having to be rescued by Jack. It is camp and corny in equal measure and while it is generally family friendly there might be some cover-their-ears moments for parents with younger children. Every vegetable is phallic for Clary, no chance for innuendo-a-go-go ignored. But for filthy unreconstructed fun look no further.

Apart from Alexandra Burke’s powerhouse rendition of Hallelujah and her funky dance-off with French, there is an old school variety feel to the entire performance. A slapstick routine featuring most of the cast plus assorted flying frying pans and swinging golf clubs is straight out of vaudeville. At heart this is essentially a variety show in panto clothing.

No expense has been spared, with dancers, deafening bangs, flames shooting up and a lavish set design from Mark Walters. Visual high points include the animatronic giant who really is gigantic and Jack scaling a beanstalk which stretches to the Palladium ceiling. Needless to say Clary’s character was suitably awestruck by this impressive erection.

At the London Palladium, to 15 January; palladiumpantomime.com