There’s no doubting the energy in Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre before this show starts; many kids are already singing along to a soundtrack of current chart hits. And when the curtain rises, we’re into the first song and dance number with barely a pause for breath. Grant Stott, as black-clad villainous henchman Fleshcreep, may dance like a dad during his rendition of “I’m Sexy and I Ken it” (especially when compared to the nubile performers around him) but that’s obviously the point!
With some really big musical numbers—a farm-yard tweaked “Dr Doolittle”, for example, filling the stage with some really cute animals—the show never seems to take its foot off the accelerator.
This frenetic pace continues throughout the first half of the show: potential character-establishing plotlines, such as how kind-hearted Jack Trot attracts the eye of beautiful Princess Apricot, are dismissed in the blink of an eye. Admittedly, Greg Barrowman has definitely found his feet as principal boy while Rachel Flynn brings some genuine spirit to what—even by pantomime standards—remains underwritten and dramatically passive. Experienced performer Lisa Lynch makes the most of her “good fairy” role, although she’s hardly my idea of the “Spirit of Edinburgh Castle”.
Yet the true stars of the show are (of course) Stott, Allan Stewart (an outrageous but never OTT Dame Tott) and Andy Gray (Farmer Hector), the latter appearing on a motorised toilet. This team have been fixtures at the King’s for the best part of 20 years; they revel in the script’s word-play, and are willing to highlight the ridiculousness of what they’re doing in the name of a good laugh.
With some really big musical numbers—a farm-yard tweaked “Dr Doolittle”, for example, filling the stage with some really cute animals—the show never seems to take its foot off the accelerator. However, the arrival of the titular Beanstalk actually feels underplayed and, in these Health and Safety conscious days, there’s little climbing action to be seen. Yes, the show does provides a suitably impressive “Wow!” moment just before the interval, but that Beanstalk heralds the slower action to come.
There’s still plenty to enjoy, of course, but even the Stewart/Gray/Stott front-of-curtain routines—necessary to keep the show going while major set-changes happen out of sight—go on just that little bit too long. Plus, while there are plenty of topical references—to Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Brexit, etc—there’s a tiredness at the heart of recasting Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, as one of the Krankies.
With the main plot rather ineffectually dealt with, the saving grace of this show is the final sing-along, the full comedic potential of which is heightened by the brave decision to bring on four young members of the audience. It’s an old actors’ rule never to work with children, but Stewart and Gray are simply brilliant at making good-natured comedy gold from whatever the youngsters do—and, as a result, it’s pretty clear that everyone leaves Edinburgh’s King’s theatre having enjoyed themselves immensely.