Jack and the Beanstalk | Marlow Theatre Canterbury | Review

Jack and the Beanstalk
Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Friday 26th November

I’ve seen a lot of pantomimes over the years and in my opinion no other company comes close to Evolution Productions when it comes to consistency, outstanding production values, hilarious scripts, innovative routines and fantastic casts. Two years ago, I saw Mother Goose at the Marlowe and it was quite simply the best panto I’d ever seen so my expectations for Jack and the Beanstalk were sky high. Would I be disappointed and have my Christmas ruined?! The company have added 3 more venues to their impressive list of festive shows since 2019 so surely the quality will begin to dip with so much more to keep a critical eye on.

Within seconds my worries are over. The opening number is quite simply superb as Fairy Sugarsnap (Gemma Sutton standing in briefly for Joanne Clifton) discovers a bare stage with no actors or dancers! She thanks us for coming and goes to leave, however, with a wave of her wand the opening scene is created before our very eyes as portals fly in, sets slide on, an LED screen is revealed and one by one, cast members appear in the most imaginative first ten minutes I have ever witnessed. Brilliant!

Ben Roddy appearing as the pantomime Dame at the Marlow for his 12th successive year is outrageously anarchic and hilariously funny as Dame Trot. He is involved in the 3 funniest scenes – a glorious ‘boy band’ spoof which also involves Duncan James previously a member of pop group Blue; a slosh scene that Laurel and Hardy would have been proud of and a dog obedience class that was so funny I thought I was going to hyperventilate. James proves he has a stunning singing voice and is the butt of many of Roddy’s jokes although I won’t spoil it by giving details.

Any successful panto requires a good villain and Marc Pickering returning for his second year is surely one of the very best as Luke Backinanger. I absolutely loved his back story scenes complete with psychiatrist couch and Pickering leads the best number of the show with a mash up of Mr Brightside by The Killers and Radiohead’s Creep. Bobbie Chambers is a wonderfully spunky principal girl with a fabulous singing voice and Nathan Connor completes the principal cast as Roddy’s talented sidekick Bobby.

The script is turkey-stuffed with christmas crackers, one-liners, a very funny scene with 26 dog breeds cleverly woven into the puntastic dialogue and no panto is complete without the customary ghost gag although in this version, ghosts are replaced by zombies. Writer Paul Hendy pulls this selection box of treats together with splendid direction and whilst the multi-talented cast are as slick as you’d expect from this company he allows them the freedom to play to the audience in true commedia dell’arte style.

There is a lovely surprise at the end (no spoilers) and it’s wonderful to witness a panto that really adapts to today’s world whilst never patronising the audience. Like everything, pantomime has to be flexible. There’s plenty of room for tradition and at the same time Hendy together with partner, Emily Wood, knows how to bring the genre into the 21st century. No need for revolution when you’ve got Evolution!

Did I mention that I absolutely loved it?!!


Reviewer: Patric Kearns