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A warm and welcome way to escape reality – Review of Jack and the Beanstalk at Royal and Derngate

Fun show runs at Northampton theatre until the New Year.

It’s a mark of dedication to sign up for those early bird theatre tickets when you don’t know who is likely to be in the cast or what the show might be, but with panto, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy yourself regardless.

Bob Golding as Dame Trott, photos by Pamela Raith

Such is the case with this year’s Royal and Derngate show, Jack and the Beanstalk, which is a welcome and warming way to escape the cold and misery outside a spend a couple of hours just laughing – especially with family beside you.

Keala Settle as the Fairy, Cara Dudgeon as Jess and Alex Lodge as Jack – photo by Pamela Raith

Enter stage right the utterly delightful Fairy Sugarsnap, played by actual Hollywood star of The Greatest Showman, Keala Settle, with an unnervingly brilliant English accent. You could honestly look away and assume you were listening to Dawn French.

Luke Backinanger (geddit?)

This is the second year that the Derngate panto has been produced by Evolution Productions, giving it a more tailored Northants feel, and zippy bit of technology, compared to the old touring behemoths of old which just rotated from town to town. I would heartily point out though, to the baddie Luke Backinanger (Richard David-Caine, off of CBBC and Horrible Histories), that Northampton is proudly NOT a city.

Onwards and ultimately upwards we go, meeting both Jack Trott (Alex Lodge) and his panto Dame mum (Bob Golding), both actors returning to the Derngate panto stage. Golding’s joyous teasing of several nervous dads in the front rows is pitched perfectly. A tethered drone drops and surveys for potential new husbands for Dame Trott. A screen drops, kiss-cam style, showing the terrified men’s faces in real time. Poor chosen dad Darren has to play along for the whole show.

There’s also Jack’s mates Billy (Ben Thornton) and Jess (Cara Dudgeon) and Fairy Sugarsnap’s actual real dog Biggins, and they all go off on a quest up the beanstalk (do I really need to explain the beanstalk?)

Stealing the show, of course, is the lanky Luke Backinanger (yes) doing a wavey Russian/Middle Eastern baddie accent, albeit with an edgy disclaimer about stereotypes if you listen up at the start.

He’s fabulously angular in his performance, one minute camply throwing shapes and then rather suggestive hip thrusts, which might need toning down for the school matinees.

The plot might be trying a little too hard, with a convoluted set-up of some kind of environmental disaster that no-one really followed, all redeemed by a cheesy song.

It’s cheesy, naturally, with the expected multi-layered patter flying blissfully over the heads of both young and old from one moment to the next. My companions were three teenage girls, who moved from first half nonchalant observation, to second half fully on-their-feet, whooping participation.

Ultimately it’s funny, and predictable, and you leave feeling less pessimistic, more braced to face the cold outside. Times are hard, so if you can manage it, book yourself in for a couple of hours of real warmth.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs at Royal and Derngate until Monday January 2.

The Night Before Christmas, a special show for under 7s, is also running in the Underground space.

You can book via the online box office, or call 01604 624811.

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