Review – Jack and the Beanstalk, Orchard Theatre, Dartford ****

Christopher Biggins arrives on stage on a mobility scooter. Is he to be confined to this transport following his knee operation earlier in the year? Oh no he isn’t! He is soon tottering about the stage in a succession of outrageous frocks and wigs as Dame Trot, mother to our hero Jack (Pearce Barron – showing formidable energy and skill in some big song and dance numbers) and comic Rikki Jay’s Silly Simon. Jay has to both warm the audience up and keep them there, whilst others deal with such mundane issues as the plot. This is he does with consumate skill born of considerable experience. His shopping trolley and lip sync routines are a highlight.

Biggins (the ‘Christopher’ seems hardly necessary anymore) needs almost no introduction of course, having long been elevated from lovable comic actor to full-blown national treasure. He plainly loves theatre and loves a panto audience, which ensures he gets a super warm reception. There was a trend in panto to cast presenters from children’s TV in leading roles. Many of them, of course, have theatre school training so could perform well enough, but having seasoned professionals in charge like Biggins and Jay, makes such a difference. That’s not to criticise Channel 5 presenter Kiera-Nicole who plays Princess Aprricot. She does a fine job, but it’s good to have the old pros on board as well!

The first character we meet, in traditional green light and follow-spot, is Fleshcreep, the giant’s henchman. David O’Mahony combines the required sneering and snarling with just enough evidence of humanity for the part to work. His biog also makes the programme worth paying for on its own!

A bonus with the Orchard pantos is they always seem to like to include some spectacular sets or effects, courtesy of The Twins FX who specialise in amazing visual effects. This time we get a huge giant walking about the stage and the most terrifying giant rat. I’m sure there will be some nightmares about that amongst the younger children in the audience.

This is a great show which the audience absolutely loved. There’s a decent amount of story to drive things along, combined with quite delightful and sometimes spectacular sets, in particular the front cloth and the staircase for the final ‘walk-down’ curtain call scene.

Jack and the Beanstalk is at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford, until 2 January 2022.


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