The Cover of a Drury Lane Programme for Jack and the Beanstalk - 1935
The Legend of 'Jack The Giant Killer'
British legend tells of Jack, a farmer’s son who lived in Cornwall, close to Land’s End. A Giant terrorised the area, stealing cattle and carrying them away. Jack devised a trap, whereby he dug a pit, covered it with sticks, and lured the Giant to his doom- he did this by blowing his horn to attract him. After defeating this Giant, he went on to do many heroic deeds throughout Cornwall, and on occasion in Wales.
The setting for “Jack The Giant Killer” is often in the era of the legendary King Arthur, and this story possibly derived from tales dating back to the Vikings and the Norsemen.
Kenneth More Theatre 2002 - Giant and Isobel Hurll as Giant's Henchperson!
The Giant is sometimes referred to as The Giant of Mount Cornwall, or as Cormoran. The legend continues Jack’s adventures as he fights another Giant, and gains for himself a coat that made him invisible, and “Seven League Boots” that gave him incredible speed. He often has a magic sword.
The Beanstalk does not feature in this legend- the addition of the magic beans, the hen that lays golden eggs and the singing harp were yet to be created.
WISH Theatre - Crewe 2008/9 Production Photos
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The Early Creation of Jack and the Beanstalk
In their book “The Classic Fairy Tales”, Iona and Peter Opie describe the history of “Jack and the Beanstalk” as a “Skit upon the telling of the tale”, published in a facetious tract “Round About Our Coal Fire: Or Christmas Entertainments” published in London around 1730.
The tale tells of a “dirty, lazy, tatter-de-mallon” lad named Jack, who lives with his Grandmother in a hovel. The Grandmother possesses a magic bean which Jack purloins and plants. The Beanstalk grows at an incredible rate, the Grandmother turns into a Toad and chases Jack up the Beanstalk! En route to the top Jack comes across an enchanted tavern, populated by youths dressed “in green satin, laced with silver and white feathers on their caps, each of them mounted upon an Hobby Horse finely becked with ribbons..”
Jack is granted the power to to possess all the pleasures he desires, called “Invincible Champion”, and destroys the Giant GogMagog, thus releasing a number of knights and “several thousand virgins” who were being prepared for the Giant’s breakfast table!
The names of Gog and Magog of course are the legendary Giants who protected London- their effigies can be found today carved into a church front on Fleet Street, and have the hills near Cambridge named after them. Obviously these names were combined in this version to make one Giant.
Seventy years later, in 1807 the story was printed in full in “The History of Mother Twaddle and the Marvellous achievements of her Son Jack”, appearing as a sixpenny booklet., and as “The History of Jack and The Beanstalk printed from the original manuscript never before published” also in 1807.
The “Mother Twaddle” version has the Dame finding a sixpence, and sending her son to market to buy a goose. He is swindled by a pedlar, receives a “magic” bean, plants it and by the next morning the “top was not seen” it was so tall.
This version begins to look like OUR “Jack”- if you substitute a Cow for a Goose.
Jack reaches a Giant’s castle, is helped by the Giant’s servant, a pretty girl, and it is she who administers a “Knock-out” potion to the Giant, after which Jack chops his head off, sends for his Mother and marries the maiden.
The Opies point out in “Classic Fairy Tales” that legends of ascending to the sky by means of a ladder, or an enchanted tree are as old as Jacob’s ladder, or the Tower of Babel. In ancient legends an Ash Tree stretches to heaven, and a branch of the Bo-tree of Buddha reaches for the sky.
The Brothers Grimm had a tale of a peasant with a turnip seed, and, when the seed is dropped it grows into a tree that reaches into the sky, has adventures and marries the King’s daughter.
Click on Axe for Fairy Tale Version of Jack and the Beanstalk
It was the famous actor manager David Garrick who first presented a play of “Jack and the Giant Killer” in 1773. Too early for a pantomime, it was a Christmas entertainment. For a while the story of “Jack the Giant Killer” could be found alongside “Jack and the Beanstalk”- The Lyceum Theatre presented a version in 1809, shortly after the publication of the “History of Jack and the Beanstalk”.
THE PANTOMIME DEBUT
The first pantomime was at Drury Lane in 1819. It was called “Jack and the Beanstalk:or, Harlequin and the Ogre” By Charles Dibdin.. An actress named Eliza Povey played Jack, and, bearing in mind of the date, this fact makes her a contender for the very first “principal Boy”- even if the “pantomime” was not as we would know it today.
Theatrical legend has it that the Giant Beanstalk was so tall that Miss Povey refused point blank to climb it, as it towered over the stage at Drury Lane. This privilege went to a young boy named Sullivan. This early climb up the ladder of success enabled the lowly Sullivan to eventually become principal dancer at the Academie Royal in Paris- “an artiste of considerable merit and a highly respected member of society!”
Drury Lane again presented the pantomime, now called “Jack and the Beanstalk”-or, harlequin leap-year, and the merry pranks of the good little people” in 1859, and Dan Leno made his debut in the Surrey Theatre production of 1886 as Dame Durden..Dan Leno played Dame in “Jack and the Beanstalk” in 1889 at Drury Lane.
The 1899 pantomime at Drury Lane created a sensation with the climactic scene. The Nation was at that time engaged in the Boer War.For this production the Giant – traditional name “Blunderbore” was renamed “Blunderboer”! When the scene revealed the dead giant, the British Army (children dressed in full uniform) marched out of his pockets to wild acclaim! This was a reference to The Boer Leader’s boast “That I could put the British Army in my pocket!”
Again Dan Leno played Dame Trott (not Durden this time) in this production. The Boer War was eleven weeks old when the pantomime opened.
The pantomime concluded with a pageant of Shakespeare’s Heroines, who emerged from huge books in the Giant’s library.
Our hero Jack has a name that will not change- after all, his is the title role! His surname is nearly always Trott, but on some occasions he can be a “Durden”, when his mother is Dame Durden. Mostly he is Jack Trott. In other cultures and versions of folklore he has been called Hans, Juan and Jean. Among those who have made “Jack” their own are performers like Dorothy Ward, Marie Burke, Cilla Black, Helen Shapiro, and Su Pollard .
Almost always known as Dame Trott, or Dame Trot, although sometimes she can be found as Dame Durden. A “Trot” was an old nickname for an old hag! Dan Leno played in Jack and The Beanstalk as Dame Durden in 1886 and as Dame Trott in 1899. Notable Dame Trott’s have included Shaun Glenville in the 1930’s-‘40’s. A few pantomimes have strayed from tradition- “Dame Dimple” for example “Mother Hubbard”, (Used by Prince Littler in his versions) ”Dame Horner” (Palace Theatre 1942) Stanley Baxter was Dame Lizzie Trotter.
The comic role is usually Jack’s brother- often Simon- an abbreviation of “Simple Simon”- a name that probably dates back to the Nursery Rhyme- “Simple Simon met a pie-man…” In the past he has also been called “Tommy Tucker”, “Muggles”, “Miffins”, “Simple Sammy”, and he has been “Silly Billy” on occasion. Frankie Howerd played Simple Simon in many productions, including the Palladium.
The most popular and traditional name for the cow is “Daisy” Other names have been used- “Daffodil”, “Buttercup”, ”Connie The Cow”, Mabel The Cow”, “Constance”, ”Irene”, “Matilda”, “Jessie”, “Ethel”.. Notable “Skin” performers who have played the Cow include June and Paul Kidd., the Griffith Brothers, and the Shanks Brothers.
THE PRINCIPAL GIRL:
When she is the daughter of the Squire, the Principal Girl can often be found as “Jill”. This of course is a throw-back to the Nursery Rhyme “Jack and Jill”. As Princess she has no traditional name- she has been Princess Apricot-crumble, Princess Radiant, Marigold, Crystal, Twinkle, Annabelle, Pearl, Bettina, Sprightly, Gloria and countless other names!
THE SQUIRE: When this character is not a King, he has been a Squire, or a Baron. In some versions there are both- the Baron being the King’s chancellor. Names include “Squire Doodle” and the Squire of wherever the Village is set- Widdicombe, Much Piddling on the marsh, or “much Dawdling!”
THE KING: There is no traditional name. Over the years he has been King Kindly, King Hunky Dorum, Bumble, Hal, King Solum, King Stoneybrokeish and, King Crumble.
Often today the Fairy is called the “Vegetable Fairy”. (Originating I think from John Crocker the panto author) and often has a name connected with the garden – but there is no set traditional name for this character. She has been in the past Fairy Starlight, Golden Ray, Gleam, Fairy Fortuna, Thistledown, “The Fairy Queen Ant” (Drury Lane 1899) The Floral Fairy, Fairy Flora, Fairy Courgette, Fairy Luna. Famous vegetable Fairies have included Barbara Windsor, Vikki Michelle and Britt Ekland.
The traditional name for the Giant who lives atop of Beanstalk Land is Blunderbore.
In the tale of “Jack and the Giant Killer”, sometimes presented as a play in the early 19th Century, there is a Giant called Cormoran, killed by Jack. Jack is then captured by the Giant Blunderbore, who he strangles to death! He has been “Blunderbuss”, “Blunderboer”, “Stoneheart”,
THE GIANT’S HENCHMAN:
When the henchman is male, he is traditionally called “Fleshcreep” today. This part however could be played as a “witch” type character by male or female, so in modern terms this is the Giant’s Henchperson! Earlier versions have a double act as Henchmen, with names similar to Broker’s Men. He has often been a Demon- “Demon Grimm”, Demon Discord, The Henchman has been called “Grumpy”, Blackspider.
Pathe News 'A Peep at the Pantomime'
Jack and the Beanstalk - 1921 London Hippodrome
Rare footage of George Robey making a rare appearance in a London Pantomime. Also features Clarice Mayne.
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- alternatively you can download it for free or purchase one with a higher definition from www.britishpathe.com
The story of “Jack and the Beanstalk” has influenced several theatrical and cinematic presentations. Disney produced “Mickey and the Beanstalk” in cartoon form, while Abbott and Costello appeared in their Hollywood version of the story. Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Into The Woods” centres around the tale, intertwined with other fairy stories, featuring Jack, his mother and “Milky White” the cow. Jack sings “There are giants in the sky” in this musical version, and has been featured as a television “panto” in recent times.
Reading the original Fairy Tale, it is noticeable that the moral is all important to the story. The Fairy is at great pains to explain that everything Jack does- stealing, plundering, executing- is all in the name of fairness and justice. She is not the kindest fairy in the wood however. Threatening to destroy both Jack and his poor mother if Jack does not follow her instructions to the letter proves that! It is a strong moral tale about retribution and revenge.
The pantomime version today, due to the restraints of time, and possibly the chopping down of not the beanstalk, but the plot- is very thin on morality. The plot about Jack’s wronged father is never told, and the main reason Jack climbs the beanstalk today is mostly a test, in which, if successful he will gain the hand of the Squire, or King’s daughter. The treasure is plundered, and this is seen to be justified because of the Giant’s penchant for eating the local population!
THE PANTOMIME TODAY:
There are many variations, but usually “Jack” would open with a prologue. Often it would be the Henchman’s lair, or the Fairy’s realm, or somewhere “in limbo”. This scene would set up the two sides of good and evil, and outline the Fairy’s plans for young Jack Trott. It is highly likely that Fairy and Villain would trade insults. “Fairy Flora, you are such a treasure. What a pity you’re not buried..” The Villain would boast that his master, the Giant Blunderbore will ravage the land, until his appetite was sated.
The Village or Courtyard:
In this scene, after an opening song and dance-possibly fronted by Jack or the Princess- the characters would be introduced.
We would learn that Blunderbore has made demands repeatedly for food, cattle and money. Possibly he’s been snatching unwary villagers. The King and his subjects have given him all their money, and are now very poor.
Jack will be introduced, and shortly afterwards will declare his love for the Princess (or Squire’s daughter). However, he is a poor lad with no prospects. One plot shortcut would be for the King to declare that the person who rid his land of Blunderbore would marry his daughter. The audience already knows that Jack and his daughter are very much in love, and will back this up with a love ballad-duet.
We meet Jack’s brother- Simple Simon, the comic- and Jack’s mother- Dame Trott. At this point the Dame and her son might introduce “Daisy” the cow. In the hands of skilled “skin” artistes, this character will become a much loved character. The Dame reveals she has no more money for food or rent. Fleshcreep- the Henchman increases his demands- “Oooh that Frenchman has been around for more money..” “Eh? Oh you mean Henchman?”.
The Giant- usually in the form of a voice at this stage (too early to give away such a spectacular costume!) will threaten the villagers, and Jack will declare he will take up the King’s offer, and fight the Giant to win the Princess.
A frontcloth would follow the main village scene, to allow for resetting- this could entail a love duet between Jack and the Princess –or, more likely another scene between the Fairy and the Evil Henchman. More threats would be levelled at Jack, but the Fairy would hint that she had some powerful magic ready to help Jack on his quest.
Dame Trott’s Cottage::
This scene might well contain one of the most traditional comic scenes- “The Milking Scene”. Generally this would take place outside- or on occasion, inside Dame Trott’s cottage. Simon is told very quietly that they are going to have to “M-I-L-K” the cow. Once “Daisy” overhears this, the scene is set for great comic “business”. This will involve overturned Milking buckets, stools that are kicked off-stage, a misunderstanding of which end is which, and general well rehearsed comic mayhem!
After the Milking scene it might be the time plot-wise for Dame Trott to realise she has to sell Daisy, and Jack is instructed to take her to market and get the best price for her.
Another highlight of “Jack” as a pantomime is “The Pathos Scene”. It is very important that we believe that Daisy really IS their best friend, and, handled well, this can be a moment of true magic, as the Dame bids farewell to her friend- often with a gentle song, watching tearfully as Daisy is led away by Jack. “We love you Daisy.. and one day.. soon..when we have the money, we’ll buy you back…”
On The Way To Market: Or The Market Square
In this scene Jack and Daisy encounter the Villain in a very bad disguise that fools no-one. Except Jack. The Villain offers to buy Daisy, and offers Jack a bag of gold. In some versions Jack is offered beans, and is told they are magic beans..in others, not to make the Principal Boy seem too stupid, he believes he is getting gold, and only discovers he has been duped when he takes them home.
Daisy- very unwillingly is dragged away by Fleshcreep, and presumably is to end up on the Giant’s dinner table.
On The Way Home:
A short front cloth possibly, wherin the Fairy reveals that all is not lost, and that, through her magic those beans are now Magic beans.
The Kidnap Plot:
In most versions of “Jack” today, the Princess will be kidnapped by Fleshcreep. He intends to take her and Daisy up to the Giant’s Castle. She cannot be kidnapped too early, otherwise she will not be seen until well into act two. This dirty deed inspires Jack even more to fight the giant.
Dame Trott’s Cottage- Or Garden:
It is night-time. Allowing in some productions a comic scene with the Dame, preparing for bed. Jack returns, and proudly hands over his prize. The Dame opens it and is beside herself with anger. “You sold our very best friend.. our Daisy.. For a miserable bag of BEANS?
If Jack knows they are magic beans he will be shouted down.. if he is unaware, it will not matter. The Dame throws the beans through the window, or into the garden, and exits in tears. Jack retires to bed, and the scene is set for a transformation.
The Transformation- The Beanstalk:
The stage is set for lighting changes, and the entrance of the Fairy. The chorus will be dressed as Fairies or spirits of the Beanstalk. The beanstalk will grow slowly, and, by various effects will be revealed- hopefully a sturdy towering Beanstalk ready for Jack to climb.
During this scene it would be traditional to have a ballet, and often “black Light” or “U.V” will be used. Beanstalks vary, depending on scene construction, and the facilities at the theatre. In some Theatres a beanstalk will grow out of the pit, in another it will emerge from an onstage trap. Another venue might have one of the new “inflatable” Beanstalks that rise whilst shooting out roots across the stage (very inconvenient during a ballet!) and in non “flying” venues (those without a fly tower) the Beanstalk will be revealed on a truck, complete with a hidden ladder.
The Final part of the Transformation is when the Dame and Simon discover the Beanstalk the next morning, summon the King, the Princes and any villagers who are not frantically changing out of Fairy ballet costumes! Jack is often revealed magically transformed into a glittering costume- especially if the part is played by a girl, and is often given a magic sword by the fairy.
The scene concludes with either a big chorus number, or with a solo number from Jack as he approaches and starts to climb the stalk. The curtain falls, and rises again (a “bounce”) to reveal the final “tableaux”.
Poster Pastiche! 1940's Howard & Wyndham's Poster adapted for Sue Pollard's appearance at the Theatre Royal Nottingham in 1982
Often Act Two will open with a scene half way up the Beanstalk, with many glittering costumes on display as Jack meets the Fairy and the inhabitants of Cloudland. In other versions the scene might begin outside the Giant’s Lair.
The Castle Gates:
Jack travelled alone in the original story, but in recent years it has not been practical to leave the rest of the cast behind- earth-bound. Often Jack will discover his Mother, Simon and the King have struggled up the Beanstalk as well. This allows a comedy scene outside the Gates of Castle Blunderbore, or, inside the Giant’s Kitchen later.
There may well be some form of “Ghost Gag” here, involving Fleshcreep, or a comedy “three hander” between the King and the two principal comics. Once inside the castle, the scene is set for what is often the first appearance of the Giant.
The Giant’s Kitchen:
This scene would usually involve Fleshcreep setting up the entrance of the Giant. Then, with much “Fi, Fi, Fo, Fum!” he appears. In some productions the Giant will be a very sturdy costume, often strengthened with an aluminium harness. The actor (who has the most difficult role in the panto) will most likely be very tall, strapped into stilt like boots- the stilts are not unlike those worn by plasterers to reach high ceilings.
He will have a huge head on top of the costume, and will be peering through a gauze, usually located in the chest of the “Giant”. The hands will not be his own, and inside he will have a number of pulleys to work the eyes and the mouth of the giant. More often than not his voice will be pre-recorded, otherwise you would just hear loud gasping as the actor struggles to move and manipulate the costume!
In older productions- during the 19th and early 20th Century, often the Giant would be an artiste on tall stilts, with a “Carnival” style papier mache head. There were circus troupes and families who specialised in performing the Giant, his wife and all their children in this scene. Today it is possible to hire “animatronic” Giants, that are worked electronically- although they still need an actor to be inside, and Qdos for example have a truly gigantic “hydraulic” giant that literally fills the stage- he is worked by several people turning handles and adjusting levers, like a steam train in human form!
In this scene the Giant will be pandered to by Fleshcreep, and amuse himself by taunting the imprisoned Princess. At some point he will lumber off stage, and Jack will enter. Jack will greet the Princess, and hide himself away for the return of the giant.
Huge props and trucks are often required for this scene- a Giant table and chair perhaps, a huge Dresser, oven and cooking pots. In addition to this the props departments will probably have had to create a “singing” harp, and a Hen- often a puppet- that produces “golden” eggs!
Jack will attempt to steal the treasures, and at some point his family and the King will be brought into the scene.Daisy the Cow will be discovered safe and sound. Fleshcreep has to be defeated, or at least sent packing, and the Princess released from her cage. An enraged Giant will discover Jack with his treasure, and they flee the scene.
The Village Square: Or foot of the Beanstalk:
For the sake of scenery, often the Beanstalk has “miraculously” been transplanted to the village square. Sometimes it remains in Dame Trott’s garden. Either way, nobody really seems to notice. The audience is too busy watching Jack climb down the beanstalk, and rush to find his trusty axe!
This scene is one of the most problematic in Pantoland. How to show, on stage the Giant descending the Beanstalk (impossible, as the actor has difficulty walking in the costume- climbing is not possible) and falling to the ground. Indeed- the Beanstalk itself should collapse as Jack strikes at it’s base.
In some productions this is performed in the style of Greek Theatre- we have to use our imaginations and follow the sound effects. In other productions a Giant hand or foot will descend from the “flys”. Another will discover the Giant already dead when a cloth lifts to reveal him. It certainly gives directors and technicians a lot to think about!
The plot is wrapped up. The Giant is dead, Jack, Simon and Dame Trott are rich, and the King very graciously allows his daughter to marry our hero. Daisy has been returned to the family, and Fleshcreep- more often than not, is struck by the Fairy’s magic spell, and “made Good”!
Most often Simple Simon, and Dame Trott will take on the task of that mass “sing-a-long” that is the “songsheet”, or, if Jack is the star name- it might be Jack with or without his family. Meanwhile the company are changing rapidly into their “walk-down” or finale costumes.
The Wedding scene and finale can take place in any scenic place the designer wishes- there is no specific place or palace to set this scene. Most likely it will be sumptuous, with lavish costumes and a plethora of ostrich feathers so that the last thing the audience sees as the curtain falls is the thing that they’ll most remember. Lavish, spectacular and a wonderful story!
Other links which may be of interest
SCENERY / COSTUMES / MISC
CREDITS FOR SOME INFORMATION IN THIS ARTICLE
"The Classic Fairy Tales" by Iona and Peter Opie
'Oh Yes it Is!' by Gerald Frow
'The Encyclopaedia of Pantomime' by David Pickering
This page was last updated 6th March 2010