Jack and the Beanstalk

Morgan Brind
Derby LIVE and Little Wolf Entertainment
Derby Arena
to

The programme for Jack and the Beanstalk at Derby Arena was almost prophetic: Lizzy Wofford who grew up down the road in Lichfield was “thrilled” to be spending her Christmas telling stories in a massive frock. She “very much hopes she doesn’t get stuck in a doorway during the show”.

On press night, the actor playing Fairy Story didn’t get stuck—she faced an even more nightmarish situation. After the first couple of minutes, she stood waiting for the giant’s voice to boom around the venue but was greeted by silence.

After a stage manager’s intervention, Wofford left the stage, returning a few minutes later when the technical hitch had been sorted, and the panto started all over again.

She coped admirably, reciting her lines with enthusiasm, meaning and wry humour, almost as though she were saying them for the first time. She got the show off to a belated but thrilling start.

It’s the second year that Derby-based Little Wolf Entertainment has teamed up with Derby LIVE on the city’s panto. In 2017, Beauty and the Beast won the best set and staging accolade at the Great British Pantomime Awards. I described it as “festive gold”; Jack and the Beanstalk is just as good if not better.

Little Wolf co-founder Morgan Brind not only writes and designs Jack and the Beanstalk, he also plays Dame Trott. The script includes plenty of ancient jokes—could it be that children are hearing them for the first time?—as well as some clever touches including alliteration and references to weightier societal issues.

Brind knows how to work an audience, getting the maximum number of laughs out of every scene. There’s also admiration for and amazement at his wide array of outlandish costumes.

Some of the routines aren’t new: a scene involving water pistols is included in at least one other East Midlands panto this year. But you’ll have to travel a long way to see anything as funny as Dame Trott and her son Simple Simon’s attempts to make their own ice cream. Brind and a hugely funny Richard Brindley top everything off by trying to regain their feet on a very slippery floor; simple yet side-splitting.

The star name in Jack and the Beanstalk is Duncan James, singer with boy band Blue and now an established actor. He makes a good job of what can be a subservient role. Jack is an educationally challenged character who has to do his mother’s bidding. It’s far-fetched that he manages to attract the attention of the princess yet alone gets her to marry him. Yet James, who also played Jack in a Birmingham Hippodrome production four years, ago pulls it off with style.

There’s also an intriguing performance by Lawrence Boothman as Cess Pit, Giant Bogey’s right-hand man who knows how to get on the wrong side of the audience with lines like “I hope Santa Claus forgets where you live.”

Jack and the Beanstalk is spectacular in every sense of the word. There’s a 12-foot giant, a cow called Pat and an ultra-violet sequence at the start of the second half to complement good acting and sumptuous costumes.

After the finale, the curtains wouldn’t close. But this wasn’t like the beginning when the giant didn’t want to speak. Perhaps it was someone merely wishing that the panto wouldn’t end.

Reviewer: Steve Orme