Is it really that time of year already? –Oh yes it is! Northampton’s iconic Royal & Derngate pantomime has come dashing through the not quite yet snow, just in time for the countdown to Christmas. Pantos have been a long-lasting tradition of my family’s winter holidays, so it wouldn’t be Christmas without the incessant “it’s behind yous!”, painful puns, low-brow gags and flamboyant costumes. And while Jack And The Beanstalk has all that and a little bit more, this year’s production seems to lack that same festive magic in the years beforehand. There’s laughs and boos aplenty in the show, but I find myself cringing more often than usual through the typical charmless charisma of every pantomime. Maybe I am getting too old for them after all… Oh no I’m not!
Written by Paul Hendy and produced by Evolution, the same team behind last year’s Dick Whittington, Jack And The Beanstalk is no different with plenty of (not all) parents rolling their eyes and kids laughing their heads off at the not-so-wise cracks. Deep down we all know it’s a guilty pleasure, despite hearing waves of sighs with every cheesy pun, you can’t help but smile. I have no shame in admitting the several moments where I couldn’t contain a laugh or two. One thing is certain is that Jack And The Beanstalk has a little something for everyone, young and old, with the odd innuendo and reference flying over kids’ heads.
However, I can’t help but find myself wondering where the magic of this year’s Derngate’s pantomime has gone. By no fault of the cast, the show lacks that feel-good feeling I’ve had with past productions that gets me into the Christmas spirit. Whether or not it’s my more critical eye but I keep wondering where the budget went after seeing the lack of effects. The few instances like when Dame Trott gets stuck in the musical weather machine, which involves her getting water dunked on her over and over, gets old quick. What’s more disappointing to me is the reveal of the surprisingly not evil giant, in which he looks an overly stiff and grim horror. Considering the show itself takes a few comedic punts at the cost-of-living crisis, it makes me wonder about the value for money of the show, considering the fairly premium prices on top of what might be tight times for many.
Featuring a cast that seems a little small in size but big in laughs, there’s definitely a few that shine brighter than the rest. The star of this year’s production being none other than the vegetable Good Fairy Sugarsnap, played by Keira Settle from 2018’s The Greatest Showman. Appearing when Jack (Alex Lodge) and the gang need her most, she does well in tying the whole show together. With a wave of her artichoke wand, she turns what is an empty stage with crewmates and production junk to the land of Chucklemore. And it’s no surprise that she has a voice that can back her stage presence considering her former worldwide charting song ‘This is me’.
Alongside Jack (Alex Lodge) in his journey up the beanstalk is his flamboyant mother, Dame Trott who is played by the self-admitted ‘fat man in a dress’, Bob Golding. Taking on arguably the biggest role that really makes or breaks a pantomime in my eyes, it’s safe to say he does it well. Modelling a variety of outfits that can only be described as fabulously tacky eye sores, including a tin of ‘Haz Beans’ and Sir Elton John on a piano. While there isn’t anything extremely special about this show, what makes Golding’s performance is his ability to improvise when the inevitable panto mishaps happen.
But for me it’s the rightfully named baddie, Luke Backinanger (Richard David-Caine), who not only steals from the villagers of Chucklemore but the stage as well. David-Caine embraces the clichés of every pantomime villain in a hilarious way that’s not too on the nose with his ‘non-specific foreign accent’. There’s something about the way he delivers every line and gag that has me still laughing as he’s hits yet another quip. Right up until his boy band finale, he has the entire audience’s eyes and ears on him.
Jack And The Beanstalk may pale slightly in comparison to past pantos, but you’ll still be sure to have wonderful evening out with friends and family just in time for Christmas and to kick off the New Year. Jack And The Beanstalk won’t be leaving Northampton’s Royal & Derngate until 2 January 2023, book tickets while you still can here.
Photo credit: Pamela Raith.