PantomimeReviewSouth East

Jack and the Beanstalk – Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Reviewer: Dan English

Writer and Director: Paul Hendy

Following last year’s dabble into an online pantomime, The Marlowe Theatre returns, through Jack and the Beanstalk, to physical form in this superb festive feast of a pantomime.

The return of The Marlowe’s pantomime has been eagerly anticipated following the impact of the pandemic, and the effects, laugh and heart of this production shine through even the darkest of winter nights. This is an inclusive and well-crafted production which feels a necessary tonic during this Christmas period.

Duncan James, star of boyband Blue, is protagonist Jack Trott and is adept at the demands of the role. His charisma shines through and there is a roguish charm to his portrayal of Jack. James looks at ease during his numbers and bounces well off of those around him to star in this leading role.

Strictly Come Dancing professional Joanne Clifton, Fairy Sugarsnap, showcases her dancing abilities throughout, sending up her role on Strictly as an effective gag throughout. Clifton often webs the piece together through its transitions, and shines in her solo moments.

Returning for yet another superb stint as The Marlowe’s Dame is Ben Roddy. The first few moments of the production are a little ropey, and quite meta with lots of Marlowe self-references, but the piece soon clicks into gear once Roddy arrives. As Dame Trott, Roddy is exceptionally funny, working the crowd well but also dazzling in an array of bigger and bolder costumes, including a brilliant Elton John-inspired piece. Roddy also has a terrific turn with dog Biggins in a well-delivered dog show routine, set brilliantly to Me and My Shadow. This is Roddy’s 12th Marlowe pantomime and could well be his best.

Marc Pickering, as the superbly named Luke Backinanger, threatens to steal the show as the villain of the piece. Pickering’s goofy delivery of Backinanger works well, and this is yet another strong role for Pickering who is quickly becoming a fixture of the Canterbury pantomime. A standout moment is Pickering’s deep dive into his character’s backstory in Act One, which works well and develops as the piece unfolds.

Nathan Connor and Bobbie Chambers, Bobby and Jess respectively, support Jack in his quest and are strong in their roles. Connor’s superb dancing abilities are showcased in a slick breakdancing routine, while Chambers’ sweet portrayal of Jess creates good chemistry with those around her, and there is a sense of empowerment in Jess’ character which stereotypically lacking in female pantomime roles, creating a refreshing contrast.

Supporting the production is an exceptional ensemble cast who work tirelessly to bring together the humour and charm of this piece. This is a small ensemble who deliver demanding choreographed routines with aplomb, ranging from parodies of Hamilton to Eminem in a far-ranging soundtrack.

The script, penned by Paul Hendy, weaves in some interesting choices including a number of self-references about the Marlowe pantomime which do feel a little clumsy, but these ultimately set up the atmosphere of celebration and joy of being back on stage that this piece bounces off of. Despite a shaky start, the wit and humour one comes to expect from a Marlowe pantomime soon shines through. The pantomime has a number of traditional sequences, including a frantic dog-punned exchange and an excellent bench routine, retaining the hallmarks of Marlowe pantomimes from years gone by.

The design of this production is bright and bold and feels like a celebration of not just the story but of being back live on stage again after last year’s online production. In addition, the dazzling colours support the eye-catching costumes in this production which is full of heart and charm. Furthermore, it’s also a production boasting not one, but two giants which dominate the stage towering over both cast and audience. No expenses appear spared in this show, which feels bigger than a bog standard Christmas pantomime piece.

Jack and the Beanstalk marks a triumphant return to the stage for the Marlowe Theatre’s pantomime, and it is just as funny and as heartfelt as its predecessors. This is a charming production which works hard to entertain, supported by its exemplary cast, and is a magical evening full of festive fun.

Runs until Sunday 9 January 2022.

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A Christmas Cracker

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The South East team is under the editorship of Nicole Craft. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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