Theatre review: Jack, Mum and the Beanstalk

Our theatre reviewer, Hannah Hobson, shares her thoughts on Jack, Mum and the Beanstalk at Hull Truck Theatre.

Fred Weeks and Lavi Payne in Jack, Mum and The Beanstalk at Hull Truck Theatre. Image: Karl Andre Photography.

While the main stage at Hull Truck is absorbed with a ghostly Victorian fable, the Godber Studio is being transformed into a cloud-bound wonderland; a fairy tale from a family living room with plenty of stage magic. If you’re looking for something to entertain the little ones this Christmas, look no further than Hull Truck’s Jack, Mum and the Beanstalk.

Set in the frantic rush of a last-minute tidy before an unexpected Christmas visitor, Sam Casely’s adaptation of the classic fairy tale follows a modern-day Jack trying desperately to make his mum happy. This leads him on a dreamlike journey, up beanstalks and into the clouds. It is a joyful, sincere play with plenty of opportunity for laughter, empathy and awe.

Levi Payne. Image: Karl Andre Photography.

Tom Saunders’ direction fully embraces the magic of the piece. It is an utterly joyous production, wonderful in its most literal sense. Jessie Addinall’s lighting, Matthew Clowes’ sound and Amy Watts’ design combine with Saunders’ direction to create true stage magic.

The staging thrives in its simplicity, creating powerful images from a twinkle of a fairy light or a twitch of a puppeteered wing. The realisation of these elements is so perfect that I am loathe to spoil it for those who are yet to see it. All I will say is there were plenty of gasps from parent and child alike at certain moments of the show.

The cast that inhabit this world of wonder are entirely true to the reality of the play. Levi Payne as Jack is charming and boyish, connecting his puppet performance to his portrayal of the real world Jack with ease. Lucy Litchfield is a fantastic grounding force as the titular ‘Mum’, sensitively embodying a woman trying to do her best by herself and her son. It is Fred Weeks’ giant, however, who brings the biggest impact. He balances empathy with oafish comic timing, humanising a character who may have been a two-dimensional villain in lesser productions.

Lucy Litchfield and Levi Payne. Image: Karl Andre Photography.

Also important are the puppet cast made by Liz Dees, which expand the play’s magic greatly. They are colourful and clever additions, enhancing the sense of the play as part comic book. Litchfield and Payne both bring warmth and humour to their puppet performances. Anna Ingleby is credited as a puppetry consultant to this production and there is a delicacy to the integration of puppetry here which is commendable.

Ultimately this is a production which fulfils on its promise to bring a little Christmas magic to families this season. It’s a fairy tale about what we will do for the people who matter to us and how that can bring us together. What’s more festive than that?

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[Hannah Hobson – Theatre reviewer]