By BRUCE DENNILL
Jack And The Beanstalk / Directed by Janice Honeyman / Mandela, Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein, Johannesburg
In recent Joburg Theatre pantomimes, there has been a pleasing shift from fun, cheesy farce to a more stylish, polished approach that, while still rich in all of the genre’s cherished traditions, has added punch and precision to go with the cross-dressing and double entendres.
This cast is superbly well-drilled, with Nicol Sheraton’s choreography meaning that the entire show is a non-stop cauldron of energy (that features an actual cauldron at one point) that allows the ensemble as much stage time and almost as much prominence as the leads. This allows for maximum engagement with the audience, with punters of all ages well catered for.
Zolani Shangase as the title character is excellent, making the piece’s hero charming and cocky on one hand and liable to trip over his own arrogance on the other, with all of his action informed by extraordinary singing and dancing flair. Other notable performances come from Germandt Geldenhuys as the Dame (and Jack’s mother) and Neo Motaung as the mother of Jack’s love interest, who is played by Dezlenne Ulster-Weale. It makes a difference having an actor with Geldenhuys’ extensive singing training in such a role, though he’s equally adept when it comes to the show-stealing comedic aspects of his character. Motaung keeps pace and the pair have an excellent chemistry, making their interactions particularly enjoyable, particularly when accompanied by Clive Gilson’s goofy policeman.
The inevitable product placements are handled with less heavy handedness than is sometimes the case and other aspects of the production cater specifically to various age groups – what feels like additional phrases that could be misheard as lewd observations against some musical choices that get tweens and teens going in their seats while their parents look on, somewhat non-plussed.
The sets – supplied by specialist international production company Qdos, are spectacular, bright, colourful and colossal (as they have to be in a story that literally involves a giant). There are details that catch the eye in other ways, like the built-in perspective that makes the pillars or buildings in a given scene look the same to those sitting at eye level in the stalls as it does to those perched in the balconies.
In the second act, the more conventional aspects of the old fairy tale are blurred by Honeyman’s updated interpretation and the many South African references that are added to the script, but the consistent pace, humour and vitality of the piece and its performers means there is never a shortfall in the satisfying nature of the show as a whole.
Wonderful family entertainment.