Above, Jack McCann as male lead Jack.
There is always something magical when panto comes to town, and the Millennium Forum’s yearly pantomime has magic in abundance.
This year, a giant beanstalk has grown from the Forum’s stage for the production of the classic tale Jack and the Beanstalk.
For a story which dates to the 18th Century, Jack and the Beanstalk still manages to entertain and delight audiences to this day and the Forum’s take on this family favourite does so with ease. From the beautifully elaborate set construction to the engaging performances, the Millennium Forum has shown once again why they are the place to be during the festive season.
We caught up with three stars of the show to find out more about this year’s production. Jack McCann who plays the Giant defeating male lead Jack, Orla Mullan who returns to play Fairy Rose Petal and James Leaky who attracts all the boos for his performance as baddie Flesh Creep.
Orla started by telling us how the show has been received so far: “It’s been really well received across the board and we’re nearly always performing to a full house.”
“We’ve had fantastic audiences and all very different audiences too” added Jack. “During the day we have the school audiences so the reactions are slightly different to the evening time audiences where the balance is slightly different but equally as good.”
“You get away with a bit more innuendo in the evening one” laughed James. “It’s funny because the rhythm of the show changes because of that” agreed Jack. “There’s laughs coming in where you don’t expect them too.”
Baddie James added: “There’s nothing quite like the feeling of thousands of children booing at you, it almost lifts you off your feet.”
Above, Orla Mullan as Fairy Rose Petal.
Panto dates to the 16th Century, with similarities found in theatre as far back as Roman times from the end of the first century BC. As a form of theatre which has stood the test of time, I was interested to hear their take on why audiences flock year on year to be entertained by this old yet exciting form of theatre.
“For me it’s the fact that it stays so relevant” said Jack. “It’s a really old theatrical form but every year it reinvents itself because it has contemporary music and contemporary reference points, so it can’t date. As much as the form and the style is old hat, it constantly reinvents itself. That’s why I feel people keep coming back.”
James added: “There’s great variety in pantomime as well. You have comedy, romance, there’s singing and dancing.”
“I think for a lot of kids, panto is their first experience of being in a theatre situation” said Orla. “They are learning what was very standard theatre hundreds of years ago, and there’s something brilliant about that, their first experience of the magic of what can take place on stage. I think for a lot of people, attending a panto has become their Christmas tradition.
The yearly panto at the Forum not only provides a truly professional show, but also proves to showcase the incredible acting talent we have locally. Many actors have made the progression from local youth theatre to lead roles with one such talent being male lead Jack. “The first time I was ever on stage was here at the Forum when I was about ten for My Fair Lady” revealed Jack. “It felt really surreal coming back. Especially working with the creative team that I had known so well from a long time ago.”
The various facilities at their disposal does not go unnoticed either. “The production value has always been amazing on this show and I think that is one of the reasons why people always come back” said Orla. “And the reviews just get better year after year. It’s a real spectacle to watch.”
Jack added: “It’s brilliant to have this facility here. The technical capacity of this space is such that you can do what we have done, and in a lot of other theatres, that just wouldn’t be an option.”
Panto is all about the kids. The interaction, the shouts, the e-numbers, it’s what makes the occasion so special. There’s nothing like an auditorium filled to the brim with screaming kids, and in James’ case, booing kids. “It’s great fun. It’s the only time when you can legitimately say as actor you are doing your job well when you’re getting booed. If they cheer you, you know you’re doing something wrong” said baddie Flesh Creep actor James.
Above, James Leaky as baddie Flesh Creep.
And the magic of panto spreads beyond the walls of the Forum as Orla revealed: “This is the fifth time I’ve been here in seven years and it’s a lovely part. I think over time you do make that connection with the audience and they start to get to know you.
“But I think the best thinking is the magic. You get little kids in Marks and Spencers looking at you waiting for you to wave your magic wand. It’s a magical part to play and one which both boys and girls are mesmerised by.
“My favourite part in the show though would be when the three kids go out to chat to Dame Trott. I get to have a little chat with them beforehand and they get to see backstage. They’re so overwhelmed by it all. For me personally, it’s a lovely thing to do, I get to meet them and bringing them on and they’re getting their surprise.”
And their personal highlight during the show? “The end of act one, start of act two” said Jack. “Jack is at the peak of his arc, he finds his courage to set off and slay the Giant and the opening of act two is Highway to Hell which is the big production number which is lots of fun to play. Also on a personal level, to go out afterwards and engage with the audience just before curtain call and seeing their faces. You can tell that they are trying to deal with the disconnect between what they've just watched and then seeing you stepping off stage and being a real person is quite interesting.”
“The highlight of the actual show for me though is Daisy the cow” said Orla. “Paul O’Neill and Lee Chapman are inside and they really should get their own bow for that because the way the move is just brilliant.”
James however, had a very different highlight: “The moment I come out for the ‘If I were Not in Pantomime’ routine wearing a tutu. As a bad guy it’s the only laugh I get. That routine is really fun to do too.
“Many years ago an old acting teacher of mine once told me, the first thing an actor must lose is his or her inhibitions. I beg to differ, I would say the first thing that an actor has to lose is his or her dignity” laughed James.
You still have time to catch James in his tutu as Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Millennium Forum until 31st December.