Director: Tudor Davies
Musical Director: Rick Coates
Choreographer: Gerry Zuccarello
Reviewer: Mark Clegg
Although none of the traditional panto stories have much plot, the tale of Jack and his beanstalk may be one of the slightest. Not that this seems to have bothered the creative team behind Darlington Hippodrome’s 2019 Christmas offering – it just gives the cast more time to do silly things and more importantly to make people laugh. And laugh the capacity audience did… including this jaded old reviewer.
Although the cast features a couple of TV ‘names’, the person who deserves the top credit and carries almost the entire show is Phil Walker as Simple Simon. As soon as he appears Walker immediately strikes up a fantastic rapport with the audience and his daft antics, funny faces and the way he delivers his jokes (some old, some new, some borrowed and the occasional one that’s slightly blue) are all superb. Whether he is miming an entire conversation in song sound bites, telling the audience of his trip to the supermarket or dancing like he just doesn’t care, this is a star turn that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
Iain Stuart Robertson as Dame Trot manages to match Walker’s comic abilities with apparent ease, and does it all in a series of stupendous frocks. Britain’s Got Talent’s 2008 winner (was it really that long ago?!) George Sampson as Jack also displays an excellent range of talent outside of his obvious dancing skills including a genuine onstage charm. Robertson, Walker and Sampson have several comedy routines together and prove to be an excellent trio. Of course Sampson is given a chance to show what he became famous for and his impressively athletic dance moves still have the power to astound.
The headliner for this show is Strictly head judge Shirley Ballas who proves that she can do more than sit behind a desk by showing off the considerable skills that put her there. “Not bad for nearly sixty” she says at one point and its impossible not to agree. She is clearly having fun in her role of Mother Nature and is allowed to let loose in the hilarious pre-finale song alongside Robertson, Walker and Sampson. Less successful is Daniel Taylor as Fleshcreep, who may have panto experience but who here is completely outclassed by the rest of the cast as he struggles to click with the audience.
With Ballas and Sampson in the show, the chorography better be good – and thankfully Gerry Zuccarello’s routines are excellent: allowing both the principle dancers and the talented chorus ample opportunity to show what they can do. The sets are suitably colourful, the lighting is intricate and effective, and the costumes are stunning, including an impressive giant and a menagerie of cute farm animals.
There were some slight technical issues on press night including imbalances in sound (the common problem of music drowning out singers at times) as well as someone being a little trigger-happy with the fog machine meaning that the act one finale of the beanstalk growing was almost completely obscured by smoke. Also the show takes a little time to get into a groove with much of the first act feeling slightly laboured and flat. However after the interval everything is kicked up several notches and that is where all of the really good stuff is.
This is a sumptuous production from Qdos that boasts a strong cast, some amazing visuals and enough panto hilarity to crack a smile on the stoniest of faces, while the fast pace means that anything you may not like will soon be replaced with something you love. Shiny, silly and snappy – just what a panto should be.
Runs until 5th January 2020 | Image: Chris Booth