Jack And The Beanstalk   Dylan Reid as Jack and Corrie Earley as Princess Jill in 'Jack And The Beanstalk'.
Production Photo: Martina McLaughlin

I've come to expect very homely and comforting vibes when attending the Derry-Londonderry Christmas pantomime at the Millennium Forum over the years. Their production team have frequently found ways of projecting a distinctive feeling of belonging and a sort of expressive passion which audience members young and old tend to find they can fully and positively embrace as families and individuals. And it gives me pleasure to say that this year's extravaganza, Jack And The Beanstalk, meets that credo without the slightest hitch, while at times even surpassing it.

One of the many things that makes writer and producer David McLaughlin and director Jonathan Burgess's show stand out this year is the emphasis on the relaxing and familiar, which translates to encouraging trust in the talent both on stage and behind the scenes to deliver what the audience are likely to appreciate. The requisite fairytale archetypes from this classic tale are all present and emphasised, both for heartwarming and humorous effect – the hero, the king, the comic sidekick, the villain, the princess, the fairy, the dame and, of course, the anything-but-big-and-friendly giant.

Matthew McLaughlin as the King, Conal Gallen as Dame Trot
and Aodhan Kehoe as Silly Billy in 'Jack And The Beanstalk'.
Production Photo: Martina McLaughlin

Cultural references, cleverly used popular tunes from the Disney catalogue and more, witty and funny wordplay, physical clowning, at times staggering Venessa Chapman choreography and Imagine Theatre Ltd's well crafted set, costumes, giant, beanstalk and cow all contribute to a swiftly-paced and energising treat. But perhaps best of all are the performances. Corrie Earley, an utter delight in last year's Cinderella: The Midnight Princess at Belfast's MAC, is similarly spirited and electric here as Princess Jill. There's a hugely enjoyable moment where she takes charge in the heroes' slapstick fight with Giant Blunderbore (Cahir O'Neill).

Elsewhere, Dylan Reid's Jack is pivotal, a funny and ultimately courageous inspiration to Matthew McLaughlin's King, the likable blundering of Aodhan Kehoe's Silly Billy and the dependability of Conal Gallen's Dame Trot. Enya Loughlin's Fairy Sweet Pea is gently captivating, a reflection of and a motivation to increasing confidence both in fairy magic and the hero’s journey, all of which is encapsulated quite brilliantly in a performance of "You'll Be In My Heart". And Karen Hawthorne once again shows her consummate skill in transitioning from heroine to villain with a most interesting take on Flesh Creep – driven to dismay and arguable despair by an audition for a girl band that didn't go so well, she channels this into a frustration with society and a most disagreeable and boo-able antagonist. It's a performance of intricate and considerable appeal - very like the production itself.

Simon Fallaha

Jack And The Beanstalk runs at Derry-Londonderry's Millennium Forum until December 31. For more information, and tickets, click here.