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Jack and the Beanstalk is the second instalment from David Walliams’ After Ever After series, following on from 2019’s Cinderella. A third story – Hansel and Gretel – has also been commissioned.
Created and written by David and comedy writers the Dawson Bros, it explores what could have happened after the original Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale finished. For example, what if the giant – played by David – wasn’t killed and was simply stunned?
We also see the return of the market trader who sold Jack (Eddie Karanja) the beans – he’s called Dodgy Dave and is played by The Inbetweeners’ Blake Harrison.
Sheridan Smith is also among the stellar cast, playing The Woman With No Name - the self-proclaimed greatest giant-killer in the land.
The end result is a festive family treat that should delight both adults and children. Here are three reasons why you’ll want to tuck in over the Christmas period, as explained by the three actors...
It’s a different spin on a classic fairy tale
Jack and the Beanstalk: After Ever After is an alternative and sometimes topical take on the story. David believes that fairy tales are ideal for adapting and modernising through the generations.
“There are quite a lot of interesting debates around fairy stories, because there are things in fairy stories that don’t chime with today. The thing about doing a sequel is that you can investigate those things.
"These stories have been around for hundreds of years and I’m sure they’ll still be around in hundreds of years, but they’ll change and adapt to the time. That’s what makes them so durable.
“It’s about interpreting them in different ways, finding different ways to tell them. I think they’ll always have a place. I think kids will always like them.”
And while we all think we know the full story of Jack and the Beanstalk, David points out that no story in life simply finishes so abruptly – so he started exploring what would happen afterwards.
“Fairy stories end ‘...and they all lived happily ever after’ and we all know life isn’t like that,” he explains.
“There’s always more stories. I thought this was ripe for it, because I thought if the giant isn’t dead then that creates a really interesting dynamic.”
Another character that’s retained from the original story is the man who sold Jack the magic beans.
Blake says of his role: “His name, 'Dodgy Dave', says it all – he’s not exactly going to be the most honest man in the world. I personally wouldn’t buy anything from Dodgy Dave. But I feel it was just a lovely little spin on the guy that sells Jack the beans. He is just a guy who’s trying to rip everyone off.”
One mainstay of fairy tales – a strong moral – is included in this version of the story, which David Walliams and Sheridan Smith felt was important.
David says: “It felt of the time because it’s basically about the idea that humans and giants can get on, so it felt timely as a metaphor.”
Sheridan adds: “With David’s stories there’s always a lovely message, like accepting people who are different – like with the giant and Jack becoming friends. There’s always a lovely moral to the story.
But David and the writers were keen to keep audiences amused with topical jokes in what has been a challenging year for many people. For example, in one scene a lockdown is declared because the giant is on the loose – but it’s stressed that the pubs are staying open.
David says: “There are jokes like that in it that are more going to be appreciated by the grown-up.”
He laughs that there was one element of the story that was hastily changed because it wasn’t considered appropriate for a family show.
“Instead of a beanstalk, were going to have a sausage growing at the end. But that was considered too rude. So we had to change it into a sausage roll.
“I didn’t know a giant sausage would be rude – I don’t know what people were reading into that,” David says with a twinkle in his eye.
“But we had to change it to a sausage roll – and then that meant we could do a joke about a vegan sausage roll by Greggs the bakers, and the bakers is called Greg’s in the story. So it meant we could do a joke about a vegan sausage roll which is a very 2020 thing.”
As a long-time co-star of David’s, Sheridan isn’t surprised by how funny the show has turned out.
“David’s always been like my big brother really. We’ve had such a laugh on everything from Mr Stink to Ratburger.
“I think he’s a genius - he’s the modern Roald Dahl.”
It’s perfect family viewing
Christmas is the perfect time for families to get together, so David and the Dawson Bros - a comedy writing team consisting of real-life brothers Steve and Andrew Dawson and their childhood friend Tim Inman - were keen to create something that would entertain all generations.
David says: “Christmas is a time when commissioners really want to deliver something that’s going to play to the whole family. I think the best things for kids generally work for grown-ups too.”
Blake adds: “It’s definitely one that the kids will really enjoy but the adults won’t be disappointed either. They’ll be really enjoying the jokes that maybe the kids don’t get.”
And both actors are proud to be a part of something that their own children can enjoy.
Inbetweeners star Blake says: “The majority of the work I do is not very kid-friendly. My kids are seven and three now, so I’m really excited about the Christmas period coming along and this being on telly and being able to show them this.
“They can actually enjoy something dad’s done rather than wait till their 30s to enjoy something that dad’s done.
“The thought that you might get some kind of pride from your children is a magical, lovely thing.”
David, parent to seven-year-old Alfred, agrees: “It’s a nice thought that you can do something that your child might enjoy.
“He likes the funny make-up and the funny voices. I sort of live to make him laugh. Anything I can do that’s kind of silly or funny I really enjoy.
“It is nice to have some kudos with your kids. I really wanted to do something that my kids actually enjoy.”
The impressive cast
David was quick to sing the praises of Sheridan Smith, who plays the villain of the story.
He laughs: “I just thought, ‘We’re never going to get her but we might as well ask her’. And amazingly she hadn’t worked for a long time so she said yes! We were in lockdown so basically every actor was raring to go.
“I think she’s the most popular actress in the country by a long way. She’s also the most talented. I can’t think of a single role she can’t play.”
Blake admits he didn’t have to think much about taking on the role of Dodgy Dave – and congratulated the crew for making filming safe during the pandemic.
He says: “I was very unemployed whilst waiting for the call for this. It was incredibly strange but I felt they dealt with it all incredibly well. They had the Covid marshals around and we were all tested. It was as safe as it could possibly be in this situation.
“I thought they all did a cracking job of keeping everyone safe but still happy and raring to go for the job.”
However David and Sheridan believe the real star of the show is Eddie Karanja, who makes his screen debut as Jack.
Sheridan says: “He was just so sweet and he was always asking questions. He just wanted to learn. He picked it up so quickly - I was so impressed.
“It’s so lovely when you see those kids because it comes across on camera - the unaffected and not kind of precocious kids, like stagey kids. He worked so well as Jack because you can see what a little sweetie he is.”
David continues: “The problem is, you see a child give a brilliant performance in something – like I’ve just watched The Witches and there’s a couple of brilliant kids in there - you go ‘Oh let’s get them’. And you find out they are now 38 - by the time the film’s been made and is out, the kids have grown up.
“So you have to find people who are generally not hugely experienced. He wasn’t, but he was instantly very loveable.
“You’ve got to be rooting for Jack in the story and Eddie was a delight.”
David also stressed the importance of diversity in his work – for both on- and off-camera positions.
“It’s very important. It’s always been important in anything I’ve done in television right from the start,” he says.
“Eddie, who plays Jack, is black – but it wasn’t like it needed any thought, we just wanted the best kid and he was the best kid so he was in there.
“Diversity is super important in front of a camera and behind a camera. I’m delighted we have a really diverse cast.”
Jack and the Beanstalk After Ever After is available on Sky One with the NOW Entertainment Membership.
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