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Jack and the Beanstalk - Northampton Review

"It's a Pantomime" is the spectacular opening number re-wording a song from the musical Something Rotten and it sets the tone for 2 hours of big family fun in the annual Royal and Derngate Pantomime. Undoubtedly one of the highlights of the year.

Keala Settle as Fairy Sugarsnap. Photo by Pamela Raith Photography

Evolution Production once again teams up with the venue with Paul Hendy once more writing a script that is full of gags, music and general outrageousness. As ever Hendy keeps the writing fresh and relevant with one of the central themes being the threat of climate change as the villain threatens to destroy the village with an outlandish weather machine.

The casting of The Greatest Showman and Tony-nominated star Keala Settle as Fairy Sugarsnap grabs the headlines and she is assured, confident and boasts an incredible vocal. It's a little surreal to see her as this organic fairy but she engages with the audience and her co-stars tremendously well. I particularly enjoyed the opening scene as the magic of the show begins but instead, there's an empty stage with stagehands running around frantically before it all comes together. With Settle's pedigree, there's plenty of musical theatre references including a medley at the end of the first act that includes Hamilton and Les Miserables. Her performance is nearly upstaged by her dog Izzy who the audience clearly adores.

Every adventure needs a dashing hero and Alex Lodge returns having performed at the venue last year in Dick Whittington. He has a boyish cartoon-like quality and isn't the uber-confident hero you'd expect as he faces up to the giant beanstalk he's about to climb. Cara Dudgeon is a warm likeable presence as heroine Jess. Dudgeon boasts a fierceness in the face of danger and gives a sublime vocal performance. Both are superb throughout.

Ben Thornton hugely impresses as the comedy sidekick Billy. He is delightfully fun and masters the delivery and timing of all the jokes. Thornton has the audience onside right from the start and bounces off those around him with ease. The 6 ensemble members show their skill for movement with slick movement to Simon Barnum's choreography. There is some great work when they become zombies to the henchman, these are sublimely characterised.

Alex Lodge as Jack, Bob Golding as Dame Trott, Ben Thornton as Billy and Cara Dudgeon as Jess. Photo by Pamela Raith Photography.

Bob Golding once again proves why he is one of the best dames in the business. He is hilarious and delights in every second he is on the stage as Dame Trott. There's great interaction with the cast and audience including an unsuspecting gentleman who becomes the potential suitor through the 'Drone of Love'. Michael J Batchelor designs lavish costumes that Golding makes his own. There is an outlandish Elton John costume that will have you in stitches. Golding also co-directs the show this year and his stamp is all over it. 

Richard David-Caine has a hoot as villain Luke Backinanger, he relishes every moment and is ridiculously over-the-top. He has enough Pantomime villainy whilst keeping his co-stars on their toes with improvisations that aren't always scripted. He isn't afraid to laugh at himself or the situations he finds himself in.

The sparkling design is provided by Morgan Brind, Michelle Marden and Stuart Relph and excellent brings the fairy tale world the show is set in to life. It's a bright array of colours and glitter embossed by lighting from Charlotte Burton and stage effects and set pieces such as a weather machine that sees Golding facing all kinds of weather. 

The three-piece band under musical director Garry Jerry is set aside in one of the stalls boxes and become an integral part of the show providing both the soundscape and underlying emotion to the scene. There are fantastic musical choices throughout mixing both modern references and classic musical theatre tunes. 

Royal and Derngate's pantomime is a firm favourite in my calendar and is an unmissable feast of festive delight that will engage all ages. Don't miss this Giant adventure this year.

Jack and the Beanstalk plays at Royal and Derngate until Monday 2nd January 2023. Tickets are available from

Richard David-Caine as Luke Backinanger with the ensemble. Photo by Pamela Raith Photography

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