Jack And The Beanstalk

Production Photo: Melissa Gordon

"Magic Bean!" With those two words, spoken in one very high pitched voice and a costume that wouldn't be out of place in a classic frozen vegetable advert, let alone a pantomime stage, Cr:8 Theatre's presentation of Jack And The Beanstalk defines itself - cool, clever and consistently crazy, with an eye for the truly startling.

It's apparent that typical panto structure, even as said words are applied to panto, will be tossed right out the doors and through the windows of Ballymena's Braid Arts Centre. There are no clear introductions or getting-to-know-yous - just an immediate throwing of the audience into a world coloured by LED balloons, soundtracked by early 1990s Europop, energised by dancing to YMCA and the 'Macarena' (or the 'Ballymena'?), and characters who never cease to amaze and amuse in equally positive doses.

One such character is a rubber limbed, quite obviously stilted Big Unfriendly Giant*, portrayed by Richard Galloway with his worst Don Corleone impression. In his quest to claim the 'Queendom Of Ballymena' for himself, he jails a warrior-like Princess Jill (Holly Greig) whose chief concern is missing social media likes. But she needn't worry. Soon 'great craic' Jack (Parnell Scott) will be on his case - after he has sold bipedal cow Daisy (Greig again) to an Inspector Gadget lookalike (Galloway again), driving his previously cheery mother (Chris Grant) even more over-the-top. Time for Magic Bean (Grant again) to come to the rescue...

But enough about Magic Bean. Director Sarah Lyle's production is absolutely full of beans, and I'm not just referring to the frequently heard explosions of hot air on stage. Using a unique kind of muppetry and mimicry, Lyle and company keep the appealing fairytale element of a classic story intact while dousing the audience with all the idiosyncratic insanity they can unearth. Such is the production's higher-than-normal loud and proud nature that you would expect to be thrown away from it all, but that almost never happens - barring a slight sidelining of the Giant at one stage, we are entirely on board for both the ride and the amazing concepts Lyle comes up with.

Simon Fallaha

Jack And The Beanstalk runs in Ballymena's Braid Arts Centre until Friday December 27. For more information, click here.

(*Thanks to Sarah Lyle for that term.)