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Review of the Marlowe Theatre's panto for 2021, Jack and the Beanstalk, with Strictly's Joanne Clifton and Duncan James


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As Strictly star Joanne Clifton told the audience of the Marlowe Theatre's Jack and the Beanstalk last night "Panto's back!" and boy can you tell.

After last year's restrictions spoiled our festive fun, and the popular Canterbury panto with producers Evolution was instead streamed to audiences at home, it's clear that the cast and everyone involved in this year's show is back and raring to go.

Ben Roddy in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Marlowe Theatre Picture: Pamela Raith
Ben Roddy in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Marlowe Theatre Picture: Pamela Raith

And we, the audience, were too. Last night the place was buzzing, and the packed house was ready to participate in any way they were allowed - plus a few extra excited shout-outs which the cast handled with aplomb.

The show had all the usual elements everyone knows and loves from the wheelbarrow of puns (this year with a dog theme. Can you guess which dog breed might provide the punchline?) to the ghost scene, but every year there's something new too and this year there was also an air of equality and inclusion too - but naturally, all done with laugh out loud wit.

Without giving too much away, let's say not everything is quite so traditional. Even the Sheppey joke had an inclusive makeover, as it wasn't just Sheppey that was the butt of the jokes - Maidstone, Margate, the Dartford panto, and even the Sturry Road got a pasting too.

Ben Roddy as Dame Trott was on absolute top form, and the costume team had outdone themselves with some of his outfits.

His one man/woman almost stand-up routine with a kids' crawl tube was comic genius. And I'm still laughing hours later about the scene that involves the song It's Raining Men.

Ben Roddy in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Marlowe Theatre Picture: Pamela Raith
Ben Roddy in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Marlowe Theatre Picture: Pamela Raith
Marc Pickering as boyband wannabe Luke Backinanger in the Marlowe Theatre panto Picture: Pamela Raith
Marc Pickering as boyband wannabe Luke Backinanger in the Marlowe Theatre panto Picture: Pamela Raith
Duncan James in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Marlowe Theatre Picture: Pamela Raith
Duncan James in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Marlowe Theatre Picture: Pamela Raith

He also never misses a moment to generously name check his predecessor Dave Lee, and this year was no different.

The show featured two celebrities, Strictly's Joanne Clifton, as the Fairy, whose impressive singing matched her dance skills, and Duncan James, former Blue singer, who took the many boy band gags at his expense with good humour and showed us what a professional musical theatre performer he is these days.

The boyband theme also continued as baddie Marc Pickering as Luke Backinanger harboured dreams of being in one. His perfect blend of camp baddie with indefinable accent was so good I almost didn't want to boo him - though it was impossible not to. Writer and director Paul Hendy is so right to give him more of the stage.

His character also led to a fabulous East 17-style finale, and his obvious rapport with musical director Chris Wong (who should be congratulated on his appearance as Prince while playing the guitar solo from Purple Rain) was an added bonus.

As always, all elements of the production came together so well you feel you are watching a West End quality show. The music, lighting, dancers and props were all on point, as well as extra star Biggins (not that one) and new boy Milkshake! presenter Nathan Connor as Bobby had us eating out of his hand with a new audience participation section towards the end.

Former Strictly star Joanne Clifton is at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury Picture: The Marlowe Theatre
Former Strictly star Joanne Clifton is at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury Picture: The Marlowe Theatre
The many costumes of Ben Roddy in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Marlowe Theatre Picture: Pamela Raith
The many costumes of Ben Roddy in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Marlowe Theatre Picture: Pamela Raith

At one point the audience were asked how many were regulars at the Marlowe's pantos - and there seemed to be one solitary voice among us who wasn't. Each year you pray it will still live up to your expectations and, after a year away from a live audience, I am relieved to tell you that it did. The cast are back - and so are we.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs until Sunday, January 9. Book here, though tickets are limited. Tickets are also on sale for next year's show, Sleeping Beauty, which opens on Friday, November 25, 2022. For all pantos on across the county click here.

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