Review: Jack! at Chickenshed

It’s the festive season, and of all the Christmas shows on offer this year, I’m not sure they could possibly come much bigger than Chickenshed’s Jack! Playing is believing… As ever, the North London theatre company’s end-of-year spectacular is staggering in its ambition, with a cast of 800 in total across four revolving rotas. And if that inevitably means that at times things get a bit chaotic, it’s a small price to pay for a show with such warmth, inclusivity and pure joy.

Photo credit: Caz Dyer

Jack! is a new twist on the traditional tale of Jack and the Beanstalk, and finds video game fan Jack (Hector Dogliani at our performance, Ellie Carroll at others) selling his precious games console for three lives on a new arcade game called the Beanstalk. Unsurprisingly, his mum (Lauren Cambridge) and younger sibling, known to all as Lil’un (at our performance played by Sylvie Hammersley-Fox, one of four young actors covering the role), are less than impressed – but could there be more to this particular game than meets the eye? With the help of the fourth-wall-breaking Tech Support (Michael Bossisse and Bethany Hamlin) and a diverse cast of avatars, Jack makes his way through the levels, heading for the ultimate confrontation with the last Boss he expected.

Written by Dave Carey and directed by Robin Shillinglaw, Michael Bossisse, Bethany Hamlin and Cara McInanny, the show’s development began with a series of workshops to explore what the different levels of the Beanstalk might look like, before being distilled into the story we see on stage. With so many ideas to weave together, the plot can at times feel convoluted, and there’s more than one hole to be found if you look too hard for them. But a flawless narrative has never been the point of a Chickenshed show; their mission is to welcome and include everyone, and this production does that on every level – in its cast numbers, its seamless incorporation of sign language, and its subtle message about the importance of having faith in people, even when they might not have faith in themselves.

Photo credit: Mark Field

It’s also perhaps the most ambitious Chickenshed show yet in terms of its design. Don’t be deceived by what you see on first arrival; Andrew Caddies’ set has a lot more to offer as we enter the futuristic and not always entirely friendly world of the Beanstalk. Meanwhile costume designer Emma Gale has clearly been busy, creating a clear and unique style for each level of the game, from neon dance wear to spooky Halloween costumes. This all makes for a visual spectacle, which is further enhanced by energetic song and dance numbers that showcase the broad range of talent across the company, and are guaranteed to have you bopping in your seat.

Perhaps it’s not your most traditional of Christmas shows, but Jack! is something much more special: a quintessential Chickenshed production. I’ve said it before, but if you’re going to travel all the way to Cockfosters for a performance, you can only hope it’ll make you feel half as good as this one does.

Jack! continues at Chickenshed until 7th January 2023.

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