Jack and the Beanstalk – Panto at Zinc

By Wendy Pike

It’s uplifting and lively.  It’s fun and very funny.  If you haven’t joined in a chorus of The Ongar Mash then you haven’t yet seen this year’s spectacular panto at Zinc, Jack and the Beanstalk.  And you’re missing out.

What a brilliant show.  The cast, predominantly children from Stage One Theatre School, perform their hearts out with such energy and focus, you have to remind yourself they’re students albeit with oodles of talent for acting, singing and dancing, executed with complete professionalism.

Filling the stage with a selection of giant, OTT frocks, large enough to deserve their own postcode, a ginormous chest and mammoth personality, the lead, panto dame, Madame Mayo, is at the heart of the action as Jack’s Mum.  The role is played exuberantly by professional West End actor Mario Frendo.

Madame Mayo’s deep apron pockets are filled with a plentiful supply of sweets which are generously distributed to children in the audience.  Be ready:  there is lots of audience participation. Good-humoured banter and leg-pulling too, especially for those sitting at the front.

Other professional cast members include Laura Barritt, who is usually Fairy Sparkle, but on Saturday played a splendid Jack.  An energetic Jill was played by Emily Wershof and an equally effervescent Red Riding Hood by Shelly Payne.

Jack's Beanstalk

Also, Barron Von Greedy, played by Haydn James, was such a convincing evil henchman, he was heartily booed at his every appearance, without need of encouragement.  Despite being a baddie – and he did look very fetching in his purple suit – he was incredibly polite, thanking the audience for bestowing boos and hisses.

Fairy Sparkle’s glitzy assortment of attire shimmers as keenly as any spangly costumes on Strictly Come Dancing, all set off by an impressively towering, bright pink, beehive hairdo.  Played on Saturday night by Beth Snook, who usually plays Jack, this character is charmingly ditzy and ever so slightly bungling, explaining some initial reluctance to use her magic.

The creative, fast-paced, contemporary choreography is mesmerising, performed by Stage One’s Green Cast on Saturday with unfailing precision and energy.  All stars in the making, they look like they’re having a ball too.  With so many performances, another team of students, Red Cast, shares the workload on other nights.   Jack’s brother Simon is played brilliantly by Green Cast’s Sammy Miller and the cook, equally so, by Emily Stroker.   Check out the coolest of little dudes in the Michael Jackson sequence.  His moonwalking moves are amazing.

The set design, lighting, audio and colourful, creative costumes are all first class.  Add to that the relaxed, cosy theatre with its raked seating and great facilities in which enjoy pre-show, post-show and interval refreshments and what do you have?  A winning formula for a great, West End-style experience right on your doorstep in Ongar.


The show is peppered with humour, cleverly written to include suitable comedy to engage and appeal across the generations.  Witty one liners, visual gags and some clever jokes for the grown ups keep the audience laughing throughout.

As you would expect there are magic beans, a fabulous pantomime cow, Buttercup, and a golden goose.  A giant beanstalk of course.  Not forgetting the the fearsome giant in the clouds, his scary presence created by a booming voice.  The X-Factor announcer blended with Brian Blessed.

Set in Ongar Marsh and narrated by Red Riding Hood, the plot’s twists and turns take the audience on a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. In between there is an amusing chase scene as the drama builds.  But in true panto tradition, good triumphs over evil.  In the end Jack gets his Jill and Madame Mayo discovers the baddie, Barron Von Greedy, isn’t entirely bad which puts him on a very short shortlist as potential marriage material.

Be prepared to boo, shout and sing as well as clap until you cannot feel your hands.  And LOL (laugh out loud).  Literally.  A lot.  Madame Mayo’s twerking routine is one hysterical highlight of many.  A joy to watch.

If you find yourself, or someone you know, with a touch of the Ebenezers or Grinches this Christmas, there is a speedy cure.  Take yourselves off to Zinc’s panto and festive spirit will soon be restored.  It’s an absolute tonic.

© Wendy Pike (December 2016)

(this review feature was previously published in The Brentwood Gazette)


Zinc believes in empowerment. The charity works in the local community and nationally, aiming to inspire people through the arts and education, raise aspirations and develop and promote new talent. Zinc believes that providing opportunities for everyone, regardless of background, to discover and fulfil their potential will lead to a more rounded, happy and inclusive society.