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Jack and the Beanstalk at Cork Opera House: Spectacle, sophistication and style

Theatre: This pantomime’s energetic cast seize the production’s comic opportunities at every turn

Jack and the Beanstalk

Cork Opera House

Audiences these days don’t need to be warned that pantomimes based on the folk tales of childhood are unlikely to present the authorised Ladybird version. The crucial signifiers have to remain, however, as with the legendary plant in this Cork Opera House presentation. Equally, bones have to be thoroughly ground to please the younger cohort of what is always a split-level audience stretching from toddler to geriatric. These requirements are met by the interlocking skills of Jack and the Beanstalk’s creative and production teams, led on the one hand by director and scriptwriter Trevor Ryan and on the other by producer Rory Murphy. Underlying the whole is a gleeful grasp of fantasy and exaggerated comic opportunities seized at every breath by a cast so energetic it’s a wonder they have any breath left at all.

What distinguishes this dynamic staging is the use of the technological potential of the theatre itself. Credits include Sam Lupton as illusion consultant and High Performance Productions for flying, of which there is plenty where it matters, as in the immediate impact of Michael Grennell’s villain soaring above the audience as if caught in a giant hand. Unfortunately the giant himself doesn’t quite live up to that terrific introduction, but the settings from Crossroads Pantomimes and scenic artist Joe McNicholas provide attractive backgrounds to the ebullience of the dance team led by Aoibhinn Quirke and the choreography of Ciaran Connolly. Musical arrangements and tracks by Jimmy Brockie and Colin Noone sustain energy and mirage – no easy combination, but assisted here by an all-embracing lighting design from Michael Hurley.

This, with the sound design by Cormac O’Connor and Edan Ray, is a reminder of the artistic sensibility demanded of people who never show their faces, only their work. Perhaps the measurement of their success here is the gasp-level in the auditorium, and many gasps respond to the visual splendour created by the design team, which includes costumes by Muireann Doyle. With this degree of sophistication and technique the plot is more interruption than inspiration, and it’s true that Jack is too feckless to be sympathetic and Jill too stereotyped to be interesting, but Colm Quinn and Megan Pottinger inject some individuality into their characters’ rather wan personalities, being such fine singers that one longs to hear them alone and again. Particularly with Michael Young and Jimmy Brockie on keys.

Bouncing from pun to innuendo and hints of topicality, the script depends heavily on Sam Lupton as SpitandSnot, a title that indicates the underlying weakness of the writing. He keeps the narrative action in full flow with allies Frank Mackey as Nannie Nellie and the sweet-voiced Alison McCormack as Patsy the Cow, a two-legged creature whose splayed undercarriage suggests a long overdue pregnancy. There’s lots of fun: the golden egg’s resemblance to a rugby ball brings on a chorus of Ireland’s Call, but above all there is spectacle, sophistication and style, all brought exuberantly and successfully together.


Jack and the Beanstalk is at Cork Opera House until Sunday, January 21st

Mary Leland

Mary Leland is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture