Adelaide Festival: Jack and the Beanstalk

Jack and the Beanstalk. Photo by Heidrun Löhr, Adelaide Festival of Arts
Jack and the Beanstalk. Photo by Heidrun Löhr, Adelaide Festival of Arts

What a great take on Jack and the Beanstalk. Deliciously dark and a touch chilling, it dines out on the drama in this classic kid’s tale, holding the children in the palm of its hand, from start to finish.

Jack and Mum know that the cow has to go, (and yeah, we all know the rap); the cow is sold for a handful of beans, mum loses it big time and the beans are pitched, a beanstalk grows; and up the beanstalk Jack climbs to the Ogre’s castle to get the gold. But it’s how this fabulous classic tale is twisted to create this top class unique production for children that is awesome.

This production is as black as it can be (for kids), and Chiara Guidi and the collaborating team wallow in it, taking it all the way. Why not? It deserves darkness; Jack and Mum are destitute, their beloved cow is going, they (seemingly) get ripped off, the Ogre eats kids, and in the end he is slaughtered!

The eerie underscore echoing the voices and thoughts of the characters throughout make it all border beautifully on spooky, as well as hitting home the gravity of the situations. It’s a lonely, odd world that the mother, son and cow inhabit and we feel that fully. And it’s terrifying being anywhere near the Ogre, as the attention to the stage story from the kid-packed house confirms.

[pull_left]Its remarkable stuff and the kids are blown away![/pull_left]

The actors are all very fine. Mum is played splendidly, with a certain desperation bubbling away that could explode at any moment, and does a few times. Strong and confident, she flows from the world of the play into the real theatre audience with total ease. The witch like character, masked and monster-ish who narrates and plays bad against good is solid and interesting, and makes a curious new edition to the usual in this well-known story. Jack, though boyish and engaging is a touch too gently underplayed, but the actor certainly makes up for it once he gets on the pole (a.k.a.) beanstalk. He is a dynamite acrobat/pole performer and rouses extra applause each time that he does his up and down the beanstalk magic. Its remarkable stuff and the kids are blown away!

The two piece multi-instrument band is fabulous, and adds masses to this well-paced and craftily scripted journey. At times the musicians leave their just off-stage spot and become part of the show, and it’s great; one memorable and haunting moment is when cow is led away to be sold.

Lots of children in the audience are picked out to come on stage to take part. They become musicians playing bells and also characters who go into the set to meet characters within the play, and there are lots of moments offered where it’s cool to call out. It is done smoothly and adds rather than takes us away from the action, the involvement fitting perfectly into the show.

The design element of Jack is excellent. A mountain of cardboard boxes that are unveiled when Jack goes up the stalk represent the hidden world of the Ogre and create an other-worldly foreign land that fascinates us. And the cardboard box mask which is the cow is so theatrically believable!

The final glimpses of the Ogre himself, through a light backed visual show and then in the final kill him scene is just enough to make us realise that he really is up there in giants land. The fine puppet work is lovely as we watch the gorgeous golden goose come to life before our eyes. This is one the best kids shows I’ve seen in a long time. It’s clever, risky, stylish, and so much fun!

Stephen House

Stephen is a writer with numerous plays, exhibitions and short films produced. He has been commissioned often and directs and performs his work. He has won two AWGIE Awards from The Australian Writers Guild and an Adelaide Fringe Award (as well as more), and has received several international literature residencies. Stephen has been Artistic Director of many events. He has been performing his acclaimed solo show, “Appalling Behaviour” nationally from 2010 – 2014 (100 shows to date). Stephen has 2 new works in development.

Stephen House

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