Writer: Alan McHugh
Director: Ken Alexander
Christopher Biggins is the star of this year’s festive treat at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre, in this long overdue pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk.
Biggins had been due to perform in Dartford last year, and so his lead role in the Orchard’s pantomime had been eagerly awaited, and the star, along with the production’s hard-working cast, including Kiera-Nicole and Rikki Jay, do not disappoint in this fun and follicking festive feast.
Biggins, as Dame Trot, is quite understated in his role as the pantomime Dame. His calm and poised approach is quite effective, relying also on his naturally quick wit to win over and warm the crowd. Biggins’ sense of humour flies through the character, from his initial entrance upon a well-decorated mobility scooter to his interactions with Rikki Jay’s Simon. It is slightly unusual to see a pantomime dame performed in such a modest manner, but there’s enough charm in Biggins’ delivery to see it through.
Children’s TV presenter Kiera-Nicole, who stars as Princess Apricot, shines brightly in this production. Kiera-Nicole establishes herself as being an adept singer, dancer and performer, and brings a glow to this sickly sweet role. Kiera-Nicole’s onstage interaction with Pearce Barron, who plays protagonist Jack Trot, works well and the couple allow an affectionate relationship to grow and blossom.
Rikki Jay’s superb turn as Silly Simon Trot is a breathless and funny performance, aided enormously by Jay being equipped with such quick wit, as well as bouncing off his previous performances with Biggins to foster a strong, and comedic, bond between onstage mother and son. Jay works the crowd well and is essential in keeping the pace of this production flowing. He is tasked with some of the piece’s more challenging wordplay moments, involving shopping trolleys and another with an incredibly difficult tongue twister, and both are successfully delivered by Jay, who really shines in this piece.
There are notable mentions too for Emily Beth Harrington and Derek Elroy, who are the Spirit of the Beans and King Crumble respectively. Both deliver their roles seamlessly, and are effective in relaying scenes with a number of different cast members throughout the piece. It is a production that relies heavily on the cast’s hard work in bringing together a lot of challenging scenes, and both shine.
Threatening to steal the show is David O’Mahony, who plays Fleshcreep, the devilish right-hand man of the giant. O’Mahony whips the crowd into a frenzy of boos and hisses almost instantly, and is impressive in how he manages to maintain this during the production. He is also electric in the opening number to Act Two, proving he is more than just a two-dimensional pantomime villain.
In addition, the ensemble cast works tirelessly to bring to life this warm and cosy production. The choreography, by Katherine Iles, is quick, slick and incredibly demanding, yet all members of the supporting cast push through to keep up with these rigorous routines. There are only six supporting cast members in this relatively small production, but the work ethic of the ensemble disguises this number considerably well.
Jack and the Beanstalk’s set design is beautiful, with the warm reds, browns and oranges which dominate the fantasy village landscape, a welcome sight when the curtain initially lifts. The rainbow centric designs which immerse us in Cloudland are also effective, and the design is clever in its deception by making the stage feel much bigger than it is. This pantomime certainly feels larger than life, and the set goes some way to achieving this.
One hallmark of the pantomimes at the Orchard Theatre is the inclusion of special effects, which is no different this time around. This production shines with its effects from a spectacular giant to a jaw-droppingly big rat, and it is clear that this feels a celebration of a return to panto post-lockdown, and as a result no expense is spared in providing a spectacle for the audience.
The Orchard Theatre has struggled with some hit and miss moments in its previous years’ pantomimes, but this heart-warming, funny and spellbinding production marks a triumphant return to pantomime for the Kent venue. This is a beautiful pantomime production which can be a little light on laughs, but with a whole lot of love and heart involved it isn’t one to be missed if you want to get into the festive spirit.
Runs until Sunday 2 January 2022