Deborah Ross

Buttercup the cow was so convincing I felt quite moved: Jack and the Beanstalk reviewed

Peter Duncan's back-garden panto was intended for online release only but it’s also gone into cinemas because this is the world we now live in

Buttercup the cow was so convincing I felt quite moved: Jack and the Beanstalk reviewed
Peter Duncan, in his fancy back garden, playing Dame Trott in Jack and the Beanstalk
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Jack and the Beanstalk

Selected Cinemas and available online at pantoonline.co.uk, until 10 January 2021

This pantomime was filmed by ‘legendary Blue Peter presenter’ Peter Duncan in his back garden over the summer. It was intended for online release only but it’s also gone into cinemas because this is the world we now live in. Oh no it isn’t. Oh yes it is. Oh no it isn’t. Seriously, it is. Why are you arguing like this? Stop it.

As many theatres are still closed, and as most pantomimes have been cancelled, it makes sense to show it in cinemas and for cinemas to have something to show. During normal times the Christmas period is The Favourite and Portrait of a Lady and, while we’re at it, have David Copperfield and Little Women too. But film companies are waiting for audiences to return in greater numbers, and as the Oscars have been postponed (from February to April) the usual race to qualify (by 31 December) isn’t on. So it’s a filmed back-garden panto. But is filmed back-garden panto better than no panto at all? You bet. It’s camp. It’s silly. It’s exuberant. It’s cheering. And I say that as someone who, as a rule, isn’t especially taken with this particular British tradition. (The last panto I saw, at Wrexham town hall, had everyone doubled up with laughter but I just fell asleep. Thankfully.)

As already noted, this was all put together by the ‘legendary Blue Peter presenter’ who I initially thought was the one that did drugs, but that was another one. This is the one who didn’t do drugs but, pre-Blue Peter, did once appear nude in a porn film, although I don’t think it is necessary to dwell on that. (It’s behind him!)

The first thing you’ll note is that being a ‘legendary Blue Peter presenter’ certainly pays because his house — in Wandsworth, I think — is an enormous double-fronted villa while his garden is both massive and distractingly luscious. What’s that lovely creamy rose? Isn’t his fig doing well? He also appears to have some kind of Victorian folly down at the end of it, but I’ve since read that’s in his neighbour’s garden. I don’t know quite how ‘legendary’ you have to be to have your own Victorian folly. Vastly legendary, is my best guess. Elton John probably has one.

The panto opens as if it’s Christmas with the cast — played by Duncan’s friends, family, colleagues — sweltering in Christmas jumpers, the poor things, as it’s obviously July and boiling outside. And then the grandpa of the house (Duncan) reads his little granddaughter a story and their thoughts turn to ‘imagination’ and the screen goes wibbly wobbly and we’re off to panto-land. Oh yes we are. Don’t argue. I have seen it. You haven’t. What’s wrong with you?

In this instance the principal boy is a boy (Sam Ebenezer) rather than a girl, which isn’t exactly traditional, but he has a wonderful singing voice, so all is forgiven. Duncan, meanwhile, returns as Dame Trott in a series of increasingly outrageous frocks while whoever was the front end of Buttercup (the cow) was so convincing I actually felt quite moved when it looked as though she was off to the abattoir. The back end, meanwhile, had to settle for being the source of many, many fart jokes. The bad jokes keep coming — ‘he took a ruler to bed to see how long he’d sleep’ — and there is a baddie, Fleshcreepy (Jos Vantyler), boo, and there are singalongs and slapstick and references to lockdown and a clematis going great guns. Plus, the production values are surprisingly high. But mostly it’s the energy and community spirit — around 100 people are listed in the credits — that undoes you.

I watched alone at home which did make the gaps in the proceedings for an audience response a bit sad but in the cinema, with kids, or gathered at home, with kids, it’ll be fun. Oh yes it will. Don’t argue. Stop it.