Brilliant Jack and the Beanstalk panto proves a Christmas cracker at Millennium Forum

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Is Christmas ever really Christmas without a festive panto offering at the Millennium Forum?

'Oh no it isn't' I hear you cry!

Since 2001 it's been at the heart of the Derry Christmas tradition and this year's Jack and the Beanstalk seasonal show is a proper magical winter warmer and simply a must-see when planning your festive calendar.

The 22nd Christmas panto production at the Forum certainly scales new heights with no expense spared on its spectacular special effects, towering beanstalk, extravagant outfits and an incredibly talented cast.

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Jack (Dylan Reid) and Jill (Corrie Earley) produce brilliant performances in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Millennium Forum.Jack (Dylan Reid) and Jill (Corrie Earley) produce brilliant performances in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Millennium Forum.
Jack (Dylan Reid) and Jill (Corrie Earley) produce brilliant performances in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Millennium Forum.

And what says Christmas more than a farting cow, a cross-dressing dame and an animatronic giant?

Starring Donegal’s irrepressible Conal Gallen as Dame Trot - the award-winning star of the Forum's first five pantos who returns after a 16 year hiatus - the audience are treated to an evening of high-energy silliness, some sparkling performances, a constant stream of puns, toilet humour and double entendres.

Everyone knows the rags-to-riches tale of Jack and the Beanstalk but the plot doesn't really matter amid a spectacle of top-notch dance routines, perfectly timed punchlines and some stunning vocals, particularly from Derry's own Dylan Reid who plays day-dreaming hero Jack and his love interest princess Jill, played by Belfast actress Corrie Earley.

Cow jokes are heavily milked during the show and audience favourite Caroline The Cow, who is later sold by Jack for a bag of magic beans at the local market, provided the most memorable moment for my six year-old son Evan.

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Silly Billy and Dame Trot pictured with Caroline the Cow.Silly Billy and Dame Trot pictured with Caroline the Cow.
Silly Billy and Dame Trot pictured with Caroline the Cow.

Dame Trot is questionably positioned as her pet heifer is being milked and as she falls off her stool when Caroline suddenly lets off some steam, my son jumps off his seat in fits of laughter. The fact he remembered little apart from that cow fart gag as he recounted it several times on the car journey home doesn't do the script justice but it was his personal highlight.

As the curtain goes up for the first time the audience find themselves in the village of Derry Vale where our story begins.

There's a running joke which begins when Dame Trot summons a large on-stage screen to scan the audience and select a willing male participant who can declare his love for her every time she takes the stage. On this occasion it was local SDLP councillor Brian Tierney who failed to slump deep enough into his seat to avoid the roaming camera and was subjected to some hilarious ribbing throughout the performance from the unforgiving Trot.

Trot delivers some fantastic comic moments in her series of absurd dresses including a skimpy Union Jack tribute to Ginger Spice and one particular ensemble she declares is her American number - one Yank and it's off! Boom, boom!

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Sofia and Evan Collins pictured before watching the fantastic Jack and the Beanstalk panto at the Millennium Forum.Sofia and Evan Collins pictured before watching the fantastic Jack and the Beanstalk panto at the Millennium Forum.
Sofia and Evan Collins pictured before watching the fantastic Jack and the Beanstalk panto at the Millennium Forum.

In an entertaining scene where the main characters are joined on stage by a ghost, they scurry across the stage Benny Hill style before Dame Trot gives the ghoul an almighty unexpected fright with her dazzling good looks. 'I'm knickered," she declares afterwards. "My breath is coming out in short pants!"

As good as Trot is, every village needs a village idiot and Silly Billy, played brilliantly by 21 year-old Derry lad Aodhán Kehoe, stole the show for my nine year-old daughter Sofia.

Alongside Trot and Fairy Sweet Pea (Enya Loughlin), he stitches the show together and interacts superbly with the younger members of the audience. His rap rendition of Eminem's 'Lose Yourself' during 'The Hero Emerges' scene; at the end of Act one was one of my personal favourites in an eclectic soundtrack which covers all bases including Little Mix's 'Shout out to my Ex' sung by panto baddie Flesh Creep (Karen Hawthorne) who 'makes Cruella de Ville look like a choir boy'. Boo. Hiss. She's mastered her stage exits to perfection! And Neil Diamond's crowd favourite 'Sweet Caroline' is Makaton signed at all performances.

The traditional '12 days of Christmas' sketch was replaced by the hilarious and impeccably timed 'If I were not upon the stage' routine where Silly Billy gets a sore touch from his fellow performers - a scene which rapidly picked up the pace of the show as it builds towards our first meeting with the giant in the realms of cloudland who serves up one of the 'wow' moments of the show.

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The cast of Jack and the Beanstalk perform at the Millennium Forum, Derry.The cast of Jack and the Beanstalk perform at the Millennium Forum, Derry.
The cast of Jack and the Beanstalk perform at the Millennium Forum, Derry.

While I thought the yawning Giant Blunderbore (Cahir O'Neill provides the voice) who fee-fi-fo-fums at the top of the beanstalk, looked more like something out of the Muppets Christmas Carol, it was menacing and big enough to give my two wide-eyed children a scare.

Led by Jack, Dame Trot, Silly Billy, the King (Matthew McLaughlin) and Jill climb the beanstalk in search of the golden-egg laying goose, the magic harp and the giant. Cue another joke from Trot in her best Derry accent . . . Knock knock. Who's there? Sarah. Sarah who? Sarah a giant living up here or waa?" You had to be there!

And when he's finally slayed by Jack as he falls from the Giant's Kitchen with his feet in the air, the audience get their happy ending with the celebration of a royal wedding and 'Jack the gack's head is no longer in the clouds as he marries his princess.

The performance ends with snow falling from the roof in keeping with the festive spirit as the cast members run through the auditorium to high-five several excitable children in the audience to round off an excellent show.

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It's nothing new but writer and producer David McLaughlin and Director Jonathan Burgess have put their own spin on it and manage to make an age-old story fresh with this production continuing the fantastic Forum tradition of Christmas Pantos - a Christmas gift that keeps on giving!

From its stunning choreography (Vanessa Chapman), impressive visuals, exceptional vocals and the finest slapstick humour, Jack and the Beanstalk offers up several giant-killing performances and fabulous feel-good entertainment for all the family. It's not to be missed! So fee-fi-fo go have some festive fun!

For more information on the Forum’s pantomime which runs until December 31st or to book tickets, visit https://www.millenniumforum.co.uk/shows/jack-the-beanstalk/

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