The 2022 Lyric panto doesn’t quite incite actual class war. But this ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ ought to plant a few seeds of revolution in young minds – maybe one will grow into the metaphorical beanstalk that allows the proletariat to seize the means of production or something.
As always, the setting is Hammersmith, which is being ravaged by Francis Fleshcreep (Jodie Jacobs), a phenomenally wealthy weirdo who lives alone in his palace in the clouds, and extorts a steep ‘giant tax’ from the townsfolk by threatening them with his mechanical ogre: ‘only exploiting a gap in the market’, he explains cheerily.
He’s also convinced that he’s the hero of the story: while Jude Christian and Sonia Jalaly’s script is clearly not angling for any messianic tech bro in particular, Elon Musk’s recent reinvention as a shit Bond villain certainly adds some topicality.
Nicholai la Barrie’s production is ultimately too soft-hearted to develop into ‘Das Kapital’ with a pantomime cow. But its willingness to get stuck into social inequality and the ravages of capitalism is one of the reasons why the Lyric’s panto has long held the reputation as the punky badboy of the London panto scene.
Crucially, it’s also just a really bloody good panto. I saw a 10am matinee where I’m pretty sure I was the only audience member not at a primary school in some capacity. Clearly there were whole swathes of it that went over young heads, from the sight gag about the Liz Truss lettuce to a ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ pastiche. But they still loved it – even a French primary school that was there for some reason – because it’s a big-hearted tale about brave Jack (Leah St Luce), his virtuous fairy godmother-in-training BFF Jill (Maddison Bulleyment), his insecure brother Simon (Finlay McGuigan) and their colossally overbearing mother Dame Trot: a fantastically committed performance from Emmanuel Akwafo, who made his breakthrough in the extremely different play ‘For Black Boys…’ and here looks like he’s been dameing his whole life (this surely can’t be a one-off dabble: panto needs him!).
Toss in some bangers by Beyoncé and Lizzo, crank up the audience interaction, read some shout-outs, dole out some chocolate, douse the audience in a glittery cascade and litter the whole thing in pop-culture references… it does everything you want a panto to do and it does it well. But it’s the air of insurrection that makes it special.