Jack and the Beanstalk review – no expense spared for giant all-star entertainment

Pantos are usually cheap and cheerful, so it’s disorientating to see millions of pounds (I’m guessing) thrown at one. The giant in this Jack and the Beanstalk is an animatronic colossus, the beanstalk might trouble low-flying aircraft around W1, and there were so many whizzbang pyrotechnics, I spent much of act one with a whiff of cordite in my nostrils. Ah, but the jokes – they’re as cheap as ever. You may leave wishing for a better told fairytale. But if you’re here for Julian Clary’s sexual innuendoes – well, he’ll give you an absolute stuffing.

As has been noted of earlier pantos at this address, its family-friendliness is moot. There are long passages (oo-er, missus) of thinly disguised smut, and of tart celebrity banter, as Clary teases Dawn French (“a budget Miriam Margolyes”), French teases Alexandra Burke and everyone teases Nigel Havers. But if the smut is overdone, it’s also creative (Jack: “I’ve been ruminating very hard” / Clary: “Well, you haven’t seen Jill since scene six”). And there’s enough knockabout, spectacle and sensory overload to keep the kids onboard. See the old-school slapstick routine – frying pans aloft! – accompanying a song about Havers’ career options, or Clary’s eye-popping costumes in his green-fingered role of the Spirit of the Beans (“squeeze my pods if you’re keen”).

There’s no sense of Jack and the Beanstalk as a story, far less a story worth telling. What little threat the giant represents is dispelled with derisory ease. To call the love interest by-numbers is an insult to numbers. We’re left with a variety show in fairytale clothing, where vitality is supplied by individual set-pieces: a showstopping song-and-dance number between Louis Gaunt’s Jack and his fame-hungry cow (Rob Madge), say. Or Gary Wilmot’s hypochondriac patter song, or a plosive tongue-twister routine to test Paul Zerdin’s ventriloquial skills.

Zerdin, who co-created the show, lacks warmth as simple Simon. But French and Clary have lots of sardonic fun and Havers is a great sport as everyone’s whipping boy. Money talks, finally, and so does the skill of old pros: light on giant-killing it may be, but this is giant entertainment.