Although lively from the start, Theatre Royal Stratford East’s characteristically modern spin on this festive favourite only really kicks into gear in the second half, unfolding with a lot of audience participation but a lack of magic.
All the ingredients are there in writer Paul Sirett and director Dawn Reid’s production – a hiss-able landlord, comedy bad guys on bikes and Jack’s weirdly endearing invisible friend Dizzy (Vlach Ashton), a giant animé-style bunny. But the village set is bland, Wayne Nunes and Perry Melius’s original music is fairly forgettable, and it’s sometimes hard to hear the singing.
Nonetheless, the hip hop-inflected urban edge is a nice touch, and things improve after (and up) the beanstalk. The giant’s kitchen is properly scary – like a ‘Saw’ for kids – and the massive, straggly-haired puppet monster is an impressive piece of design.
The smutty jokes for sniggering parents also soften into some funny moments after the interval. Michael Bertenshaw, who steals the show as Jack’s mum, the hilariously gruff Mrs Trott, brilliantly mangles Shirley Bassey in a spoof of ‘Diamonds Are Forever’.
You could do a lot worse than this panto. But it lacks the sprinkle of charm that would make it a truly festive treat.
First published by Time Out