Review: Jack – A Beanstalk Panto

by Lynn on November 30, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Capitol Theatre, Port Hope, Ont. Plays until Dec. 23, 2023.

Written and directed by Rebecca Northan

Music director and arranger, Chris Barillaro

Choreographer, Hollywood Jade

Set and props by Anna Treusch

Costumes by Joyce Padua

Lighting by Nick Andison

Cast: Christy Bruce

Paul Constable

Madison Hayes-Crook

Robbie Fenton

Clea McCaffrey

Zoë O’Connor

Hal Wesley Rogers

Steve Ross

Irreverent, naughty, hilarious, beautifully produced and performed.

The good citizens of Port Hope like it both ways. Their pantos, that is. They like their pantos naughty and nice. So there are two versions of Jack – A Beanstalk Panto. One is nice for families and their children. The other version is for adults and no children and is ‘naughty’, with lots of double entendres and a plethora of something called ‘Dick jokes’, obviously jokes about a guy named Dick.

Playwright/director Rebecca Northan has fashioned a modern version of the English fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk. We are in Port Hope, which makes sense, since that’s where the Capitol Theatre is, at a café called Beanie. A friendly, compassionate person named “Jack” (Zoë O’Connor) short for Jacqueline is the barista. She fills each customer’s orders with a smile and cheerfulness. She is even known to help out with a free drink if a customer has fallen on hard times. Gus (Steve Ross) is unemployed and comes into the café every day for a coffee, to chat with Jack, bolster her self-confidence and to read.

Gus whips out the biggest, thickest book, (soft cover) I’ve ever seen a character whip out. It’s so big and thick he needs two hands to hold it. When Pearson (Paul Constable) arrives, looking corporate in a tan coat, he is greeted with booing from the audience. Pearson owns the café and is the villain.

Milk is needed for the café and the café cow, Milky White, is not co-operating in producing milk. Gus carefully, gently massages Milky White’s udders to see what the problem is and finds that she is dry.  The dastardly (boo, boo) Pearson orders Jack to sell the cow and bring him the money. Jack in turn trades Milky White for some magic beans she gets from a mysterious stranger. When Pearson hears this, he fires Jack.

Jack scatters the magic beans. A beanstalk grows to the heavens and Jack climbs it and meets, a harried Housekeeper (Christy Bruce), some disco-dancing hens, one of which lays golden eggs, a flirtatious rabbit, a brightly dressed, ill-tempered Giant (Paul Constable) and just when your seat mate says, “Where’s Steve Ross” the Harp (Steve Ross) arrives in a form-fitting gold lamé gown with an elaborate gold head covering ready to lull the ill-tempered Giant to sleep.  

Writer/Director Rebecca Northan has created a naughty version of this modern fairy tale that speaks to our world, humanity, humour and total irreverence for the phony, mean, cruel and greedy. Pearson comes in for a lot of booing.

As Jack, Zoë O’Connor brings out all the humanity and compassion in that caring character. She is an observer of the world. She talks thoughtfully about gender issues and the changing world of pronouns. She stares down Pearson when he is being unreasonable—firing her when she needs to pay rent, pay off a student loan, and buy food. The audience does the rest by booing him. Because Paul Constable as Pearson is such a nimble comedian and can play off the audience, his responses are varied, smart, and very funny. Comments on the Greenbelt and his good friend Doug Ford are met with a round of booing. Paul Constable also plays the Giant and while he bellows about everything, the Giant is not as ‘boo-able’ as Pearson because Pearson is greedy and corporate. The Giant is just ill-tempered.

Christy Bruce as the Housekeeper is a wonderful comedienne/improvisor. She is funny down to her finger tips and can read an audience and ‘play’ them beautifully. As the Housekeeper she is both harried trying to tend to the Giant’s needs and irreverent when dealing with disco-dancing-chickens. As Gus, Steve Ross brings out all his kindness and caring consideration for Jack. He gently encourages her to be brave and stand up for herself. Steve Ross’s full comedic powers are realized when he plays Harp in that form-fitting gold lamé dress. When Harp holds out one arm, the gold fabric drops down from the arm creating ‘the harp’ that will sooth the Giant to sleep. Steve Ross can improvise with effortless ease and do a slow pan to the audience to ramp up the laughs. And he’s elegant and stylish in that gold frock.

The hard-working dancers are spirited in Hollywood Jade’s choreography. Watching them dance leaves everyone breathless and smiling.

Kudos to Joyce Pauda for the clever costumes. Anna Treusch has created a colourful, set and clever props.

Because Northan is a masterful comedienne and improvisor, she knows the minutiae of crafting and creating a joke or realizing a funny moment based on an audience’s reaction. Her gifted cast is a collection of equally smart actors who know how to float a laugh line for the biggest laugh.  

As with all good comedians, every joke, every reaction is played absolutely straight—no joke is telegraphed. A side-long look to the audience gets a brilliant response. Jack – A Beanstalk Panto speaks to our modern world with sensitivity, perception, whimsy and the right amount of silliness. It’s a great show for the holidays and after.

Capitol Theatre Presents:

Plays until Dec. 23, 2023.

Running Time: 2 hours (1 intermission)

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mary Badali December 5, 2023 at 1:27 pm

Saw the family friendly version on Saturday. I have been bringing my family to the Panto every year (minus COVID) for 10 years. It was awesome! My family has grown and we were thrilled to put 17 bums in seats this year. We even gave away 4 tickets as we received free Panto tickets when my sisters and I purchased the summer package. Love, love , love the Capitol theatre line ups!


2 Lynn December 5, 2023 at 11:02 pm

Wonderful. Keep on taking them to the theatre. The Capitol Theatre does terrific work all year round.
Best, Lynn Slotkin