Review: Chickenshed’s Jack! is a triumph for all involved

Southgate theatre hits all the right notes with its latest big production, writes James Cracknell

Jack! takes pantomime to another level (credit Chickenshed)

Chickenshed has struck gold with its showpiece winter production of Jack!, a truly modern take on an old panto classic.

The story sees Jack’s family relying on foodbanks to survive as the game-obsessed protagonist is persuaded to trade in an old console for a shot at playing a ‘Beanstalk’ arcade machine at the local pier. Sucked into the game, a colourful cast of characters challenge Jack to rise up through various levels before taking on the big green giant for a shot at redemption.

Anyone who has ever been to a Chickenshed show before will know that the Southgate-based theatre company always goes above and beyond to make its shows inclusive and accessible to everyone, both in its diverse casting and in its broad audience appeal. But it remains impressive that Chickenshed continues to look for new ways to engage and enthral, with this show being brilliantly signed in Makaton – a language increasingly used to help young children struggling with speech.

The casting of two actors with different genders for the title role – Ellie Carroll and Hector Dogliani perform on a rotation throughout the show’s run until 7th January – also sees the script making use of gender-neutral pronouns.

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As for the story, songs and set-pieces, Jack! delivers in every way. There are larger-than-life characters, dance competitions, gags aplenty, and some truly exceptional choreography to showcase the talents of a 200-strong ensemble cast of mostly children (around 800 star in total across four rotating groups). Setting the story inside an arcade game with multiple levels, ‘avatars’ and unique challenges – a popular TV quiz even features at one point – makes for a delightful adaptation of a traditional fairytale. There’s even an emotional twist ending when Jack arrives at the game’s final level.

If you enjoy the usual pantomime routines (“he’s behind you!” etc.) then Jack! might not be what you’re after, but if you just want to be thoroughly entertained and enthralled by a madcap musical adventure performed by an incredibly talented cast of young people then this is exactly what you’ve been looking for.

Jack! is showing at Chickenshed Theatre throughout the rest of December and first week of January. For tickets:
020 8292 9222

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