Like the best theatre for young audiences, Jack and the Magic Bean combines clever storytelling, imagination, and an important lesson. Throw in a little theatrical magic and you have a recipe that is pure (black) gold.
In this re-telling of the classic fairy tale, many elements of the original remain. In this re-interpretation though, there are just enough twists to its plot to keep this perennial children’s favourite interesting and engaging.
In this re-imagination from Linda Calson, Jack (or Jacky depending on which performance you might see) makes a trade for a bean. Yes, the bean does turn out to be magical, growing into a huge beanstalk reaching into the sky. And of course, Jack climbs the stalk to discover a giant living at the other end.
But this is where the many similarities end. In Carson’s re-telling, Jack/Jacky doesn’t trade the family cow, but is instead willing to sacrifice her beloved toys to help her struggling family. More importantly though, the thefts of gold, goose, and harp in the original are replaced by learning the secret to the giant’s “black gold” formula, which Jack/Jacky takes back to help sustain the family farm.
What makes Jack and the Magic Bean really rise above its traditional story though is in how Carson weaves the excitement of Jack/Jacky’s adventure up a beanstalk with a lesson on how soil is such an important part of the life cycle. Think of it as a mix of A Bug’s Life and The Lion King.
Taking it one step further, this quick 55-minute story is filled with many interactive moments. Whether being encouraged to climb the beanstalk with Jack/Jacky, or burrowing like bugs into the soil, the audience becomes invested in this quest. And of course, what show for the young set would be complete without a little scatological humour.
Under Kim Selody’s direction, both Amaranta Leyva (Jacky) and Jake Walker (Gardener, Dad, Giant, Squirm) not only seem to be having great fun in telling this story, they do so with the patience of Job.
In a room filled with young children (the show is targeted at ages 3-8), the two must deal with those in the audience who haven’t quite figured out where to do draw the line between interaction and listening. Rarely missing a beat, and surprisingly able to keep the story moving along, it is a skill that pales in comparison to actors having to deal with cellphones and candy wrappers.
Playing multiple characters, Walker is particularly good here, with a transformation into the Giant so complete there is a moment before recognition sets in. Spending much of her time with the young audience on mats surrounding the stage, Leyva wrangles, soothes and encourages while still managing to remain in character.
Along with the two actors, the other stars of this production are Al Frisk’s set and Carolyn Rapanos’ properties designs. Using hidden elements above and below the small raised stage, the transformations are simply magical. This is particularly true in the use of perspective in creating the Giant’s homeland.
The combination of costume designer Stephanie Kong and masks from Mac Hiller and Rick Holloway help immensely, particularly in helping Walker turn into the Giant.
The five-year old who accompanied me to see Jack and the Magic Bean was one of the handful of children who truly tested the abilities of these actors. I can safely say though it came from a level of engagement and fun that is the true hallmark of a successful piece of theatre for young people.
Jack and the Magic Bean by Linda A. Carson. Directed by Kim Selody. A Presentation House Theatre and Marionetas de la Esquina co-production. On stage at the Presentation House Theatre (333 Chesterfield Ave, North Vancouver) until April 28. Visit phtheatre.org for tickets and information.