Jack Gets a Rowdy Reception

Brendan Deeds takes his chances with the audience at OMAC's Christmas show

Too many children’s plays try to appeal to all the family by slipping in some risqué joke that only the mummies and daddies will get. You know how it is, those confused little faces asking ,'Why are you laughing? I don’t understand. What’s he mean?' leaving you to shift awkwardly in your seat.

There are no such moments in Tutti Frutti’s retelling of the Jack and the Beanstalk story. Jack is just plain and innocent fun.

In fact you think you know the story of the boy with the magic beans but this is not the tale we’ve heard dozens of times before. Versions of the tale appear across Europe and America and playwright Mike Kenny has chosen 'the nicest of the Jack stories'  where no one is killed. No, boys and girls, not even the mean old giant. I know, I was disappointed too.

This Jack is set amongst the Appalachian Mountains. Alison Heffernan's simple set design works well, using the single wall of a wooden shack painted in bold storybook colours to capture both the American setting and the cloud world up above.

(c) Peter ByrneThe cast’s costumes and the jolly mountain music combine to give the impression of a cross between Little House on the Prairie and children’s telly.

The jaunty music, by Ivan Stott, had the audience clapping along during many moments of this short but sweet play.

As the audience took their seats, the giant's wife, Gertrude (Sarah Goddard), sat on stage, peeling a potato. When she tired of that she shoved her finger up her nose to investigate the contents.

Garbold the giant (Simon Kerrigan) joined in and merrily snacked on what he found. An outraged 3-year-old shouted up, 'You’re  yucky!' whilst another, filled with the kind of moral indignation which no doubt made her parents proud, chimed in, 'You cant do that. That’s just wrong! Bad, bad man!'

Paul Curley who played Jack also provided the voice of his puppet. All children who have no problem with make believe tea parties with their teddies found this a completely natural way for Jack to interact with the giants.

Accessible to children from three years up, Jack’s audience weren’t shy about voicing opinions throughout the play. They booed. They hissed. They talked to the characters on stage. When Jack told his mum how he had traded the cow for some beans, a young girl, perhaps a farmer’s daughter, shocked at yet another drop in prices for cattle, gasped and exclaimed, “Beans? Just beans?!”

At one point when a father dropped his bottle of water and muttered something under his breath his young daughter shouted, for all to hear, 'You said a bad word!' 'No I didn’t' he insisted, looking round and at other parents. 'Yes you did, you did say a naughty word! I’m telling Mummy!'

You cant get more frank and honest opinions than those of children.

Brett Irwins, four years old, from Lisburn, insisted that Jack was 'awesome'. Julie, his mum, agreed. Brett’s sister Jenny, three, informed me, 'The dancing was fun. It made me laugh. Then I had to wee.'

Jack is joyous, innocent but never sentimental. It is a delightful piece of children’s theatre. Clever, colourful, inventive and fun. Even the program for the play doubles as a colouring-in poster with cutout finger puppets.

The OMAC and Tutti Frutti have laid a golden egg with this production.

And so ends my week of three Christmas plays. Scrooge had three ghosts and I've had these shows. Have I learned, boys and girls, to stop being grumpy and to learn to love Christmas? Of course I haven’t.

I have learned though, giant whales are ticklish, that working as an Elf is not a career option for a grown man, and that above all else, watch your language when little ears are near by.