Reinventing Jack and the Beanstalk at Norwich Theatre Royal
- Credit: Archant
This year's Norwich Theatre Royal pantomime is the ever-popular story of Jack and the Beanstalk. The simple tale – magic beans, giant, beanstalk – has formed the basis for everything from major Hollywood movies, to a The Simpsons video game.
Jack, the hero of the story, originates in Cornish folk stories. He's a recurring character in a number of these tales, like Jack Frost and The House That Jack Built. Other cultures have their own versions; in Germany, the character is known as Hans, while Russia has Ivan.
In its oldest form, the story is thought to date back more than 5,000 years, originally known as The Boy Who Stole the Ogre's Treasure. The earliest written version comes from the 1734 book Round About Our Coal-Fire, when it was titled The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean.
In the years since then, this simple story has inspired a long list of movies, including an Abbott and Costello comedy and the Three Stooges' Three Jacks and a Beanstalk.
Back in 2013, Norwich played host to a blockbuster take on Jack's adventures, when Bryan Singer's movie Jack the Giant Slayer used Norwich Cathedral to stand in for the castle. It starred Nicholas Hoult as Jack who, in this version, climbs the beanstalk to rescue Poldark star Eleanor Tomlinson's Princess Isabelle.
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In the theatre, Stephen Sondheim's musical Into The Woods (which became a film with Meryl Streep, James Corden and Johnny Depp in 2014) mashes up a number of classic fairytales, asking what happens after the familiar happy ending. In this telling, the Giant's vengeful wife (played by Frances de la Tour) storms the castle to exact revenge for what revenge for the death of her husband.
Jack's adventures have long been a firm favourite among pantomime audiences, and Jack and the Beanstalk was performed here at the Theatre Royal in Christmas 1989, when it starred Welsh comedian Max Boyce. Co-starring was Geoffrey Hayes, presenter of children's television show Rainbow, accompanied by puppets Zippy and George. It was here again, back in 2010, when Stephen Uppal (Ravi Roy in Hollyoaks) played Jack.
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This year, our big star is dancer, choreographer and West End star Wayne Sleep, previously a panto leading man here in Goldilocks and the Three Bears (1984) and Aladdin (1987).
These versions have all put their own spin on the story of Jack and the giant – and that's true of our panto, too. It's the story that you know well, and all the panto elements that you're familiar with (get ready to shout 'It's behind you!'), but it takes place in the wild, wild west, with a cast of cowboys line-dancing their way through 'Nodge City'.
It's a slightly different take, but that feels right for a story that's been interpreted as widely as this one has.
Jack and the Beanstalk runs until January 15. See www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk for tickets.