Performed by Ron Fairweather, Fergus McNicol and Claire McNicol
Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum: Panto season’s nearly over, ho-hum. Down in the Netherbow Theatre, a treasure awaits – not one of gold or silver, but of dreams and cheers. The Scottish Storytelling Centre emerges into the final twilight days of the year with Macastory’s theatrical group and their annual pantomime; Jack & The Beanstalk. An introductory show with a meritorious design to coax younger audiences into the opening and experiencing a Pantomime for what may be their first time.
And why not? This nation’s tradition with the genre is as richly developed and vital as its adoration for Shakespeare or Lloyd Webber. Yeah, we said it. From the commedia dell’arte roots to the harlequinade grandeur – a pantomime is more than a festive jolly, it’s a segment of Scotland’s history. And Jack & The Beanstalk is one of the most prominent shows, the recognisable tale of the foolish boy who trades the family cow for beans – only to learn of the magic they possess and a wicked giant living atop the titular beanstalk.
Touring themed-storytelling adventures to schools, festivals, and venues across Scotland, Ron Fairweather and Fergus McNicol have worked together for nearly twenty years. Their latest piece, designed to lay the foundations of storytelling abilities, inspires a love for theatre and storytelling. Macastory’s Jack & The Beanstalk is an ideal introduction for those unfamiliar with live theatre, even more, perfect for those demonstrating an appreciation for the arts by offering an enhancement to their imagination.
A simplistic, though hugely enjoyable, re-telling of the tale, Macastory’s Jack & The Beanstalk retains the charm and whimsy of the fairy tale, infused with the expected jokes, but a much richer sense of audience involvement and encouragement – bolstering the days of all who attend. But is mercifully devoid of pop-cultural references and cheap gags.
Fear not though because all of your Panto expectations are here: Cows, Strictly Come Dancing, and some rather spiffing puppets. Additionally, a whole host of characters are performed with plenty of costume changes by Ron Fairweather, taking on the mantle of the giant’s wife and the Fairy Godfather to provide a wealth of humorous moments with some delightful costume changes and audience interactions.
Revelling in their larger-than-life role (get it?), Fergus McNicol continues Fairweather’s panache for the comedic interaction for the audience, benefitting from being able to offer a sharper tongue and more aggressive stance as the big-bad villainous giant – always hungry, always in the mood for a boogie. Additionally, McNicol channels their inner dame as Jack’s hat-purchasing mother, a spoiled but likeable woman who has as much self-control as the giant has had washes.
Joining their real-life partner, Claire McNicol takes to the stage as the adventurous and dream-gazing Jack. Their thirst for adventure ripples into the audience and breaths such serenity and approachability that we defy anyone not to engage with the Panto regardless of their age. The clear sense of authentic comradery pervades throughout, there’s a distinct level of trust between the trio, both in their abilities to produce, but more importantly in the faith, they have to allow one another to play with the audience and veer off of the script where possible without losing control.
though evidently targeted at those who are experiencing their first foray into the medium. A tutorial of sorts greets audience members and reassures them that shouting out and joining in is not only acceptable within this Pantomime, but actively encouraged and nurtured. It leads to bright moments of joy otherwise unseen from other productions, where the natural curiosity and indeed wit of the young viewer flourishes – one child even receives a job offer for their exceptional ad-libbing and humour which catches Fergus McNicol off guard in a superb manner.
The safeness of the show lends itself to the script, which is largely devoid of the usual gags for the adults – and while still enjoyable for parents and caregivers, could certainly benefit from a trimming towards the end where Jack makes an additional visit to the giant to secure further funds. Initially, it feels exploitative, even though the giant is evidently a villain, but the story does secure a re-distributive and sensible conclusion regarding the fortune. Really, the only mild detraction is the overarching lack of tension or threat – other than a chase around the theatre in which the giant catches the light-fingered Jack.
Jack & The Beanstalk is the ideal introduction to the medium and artistry of pantomime done right – it’s perfect for first-timers. It’s excellent for second times, third and even twentieth-timers. And the ambition for Macastory to share their talents and thirst for storytelling is a deeply pleasing feeling to witness unfold, as an entire room of audience members get their first taste of something which will continue a tradition, spark something creative and perhaps even embolden their self-esteem.