Meet the stars of Jack and the Beanstalk at Derby Arena
- Credit: Archant
Nigel Powlson meets the stars who will be heading to Derby Arena for this year’s spectacular Christmas production of Jack and the Beanstalk.
It will be a Christmas homecoming for Bethan Nash as she gets her first taste of panto in her home county.
She plays Jill in this year’s Derby Arena spectacular Jack and the Beanstalk, working again with Derby LIVE, where her dream of being a stage performer grew in youth theatre under the creative eye of Pete Meakin.
Bethan played Florence Nightingale in the youth theatre production of A Lady with a Lamp and graduated to roles in three professional Derby shows – The Snow Queen, Much Ado About Nothing and Broken Hearted.
She trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School where she was the recipient of the Julian Slade Music Award in 2011 and the Peter O’Toole Prize in 2015, and returned to Derbyshire to work with Oddsocks – the theatre company famous for its irreverent versions of Shakespeare’s plays – joining them on tour for a year. Since then she has mixed musical theatre with straight plays, has done some TV and short film work and started her own stage company but Jack and the Beanstalk will be her first panto.
Bethan has successfully made the transition from aspiring young talent to working professional but admits that it’s not easy. ‘There are a lot of people who want the same things as you,’ she says. ‘You have to work hard and learn your craft well as that increases your chances of doing the thing you love. I was lucky that I had always had a lot of encouragement.
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‘Growing up in Wirksworth helped as well as it’s a real hub of artistic activity and my school, Anthony Gell, was really supportive. I love the Derbyshire Dales and it’s so nice to be back home. I will be able to drive home and sleep in my bed every night! I’m also delighted to be working for Derby LIVE again as starting out with them and Pete Meakin, that was my foundation for training to be an actress, learning about what it took to be part of the industry. It also showed me the opportunities that existed and gave me role models to show what could be done.’
Bethan has used all the knowledge she has gained about stage craft to set up the New Mutiny Theatre Company. She says: ‘It’s for children’s and family theatre. We are based in Derbyshire and Brighton and we are affiliated with the Old Market Theatre in Brighton. I’m very much involved in devising the shows and producing them. It’s something I’m passionate about and having the ability to create your own work is really empowering. We always say we want to be the “Pixar of theatre”.
‘When I first graduated, I thought I had to concentrate on one thing but being a theatre maker is something I aspire to as well as my professional career on stage and screen. It’s also nice to float between different head spaces and putting on a producer’s hat gives me a better appreciation when someone else is doing it.’
Up next though is Jack and the Beanstalk and Bethan says that her year with Oddsocks will help her with her first role in panto. ‘Certainly, in terms of the comedy, and the precision of the comedy. There is so much energy in pantos as well and people really do leave theatres inspired over Christmas. I’m looking forward to the challenge of how we play with that much space on the Derby Arena stage and engaging with that many people at one time. I think the costume changes and melting in the lights on stage will also be a challenge.’
Bethan plays Jill, the princess-type role in the panto, and is resplendent in a colourful gown when we meet – but she admits that’s not her at all. ‘I would have been out playing sport, getting muddy and stuff when I was little. And I think it’s important to challenge those stereotypes, which is starting to happen now. It’s important we show that to young people.’
The cast and crew were getting to know each other at a photo shoot at the Bluebell Dairy Farm in Spondon when Derbyshire Life dropped in for interviews.
Bethan says: ‘They haven’t told me too much about the script so far but I do know that I’m singing and I have a love duet with Duncan (James – from the chart-topping group Blue). I can’t wait for that as I love Blue and saw them in concert.’
Bethan will have plenty of fans of her own in the audience at Derby Arena. She says: ‘There will be lots of family and friends there. My family are very good at travelling around to see me and for the first time in a long time I will be just down the road. My mum will be there lots of times and my sister is even bringing the local Brownies group.’
Taking the lead role of Jack will be Duncan James, one quarter of the chart-topping group Blue, who is also well known for stage shows such as Chicago and on TV in Hollyoaks.
He’s enjoying being down on the farm in Derbyshire at the panto launch event and getting an early taste of his panto role.
‘It’s nice to be here as it sets the mood for Jack and the Beanstalk and selling the cow at the market. We are all already in the spirit of things. It’s my second time as Jack – the first was five years ago and that was my first panto. I didn’t really know what to expect but I absolutely loved it. People told me that you just had to go with it, but I turned up with my script, knowing all my lines and then realised that all pretty much goes out of the window and things happen when you are interacting with a live audience. It’s what makes panto special and I had such a good laugh. We had a fun season, I got the bug for it and this will be my fifth in a row now.
‘It’s the one time you can relax on stage. Normally with a big show there’s no margin for making mistakes and you get notes every night and it’s quite strict. With panto you have to have that level of professionalism still and know what you are doing but you can really enjoy it and if you adlib you don’t get told off in your notes. You can play around with the character and make changes – you can’t do that with Chicago.’
Duncan has enjoyed an incredibly diverse career from TV presenting to being a finalist in Dancing on Ice and seems to take it all in his stride. ‘I just love to work,’ he says. ‘When I’m home on my own I just start pulling my hair out. As long as I’m doing something I’m happy. I’m still single and I guess I have been married to this career of mine for 20 years now. All my friends say I’m a workaholic but I enjoy it so much I never want to stop working. I have been on stage since I was four years old and that was what I always really wanted. I knew I could sing and when I was 16 my mum took me to a recording studio and everyone said I had a very mature voice. I sent this demo tape out and the music career just happened – but musical theatre was my first love. I was very lucky that Blue came along as it gave me an opportunity to go in as a lead character.
‘Blue has opened so many doors for us. We started Blue in 2000 and none of us has stopped working since. It has given me so many opportunities. I have hosted the National Lottery, game shows, done two years in Hollyoaks and have toured the world in musical theatre – I’m very lucky.’
Morgan Brind – Dame Trott
There’s no time for Morgan Brind to bask in the success of last year’s Derby Arena panto Beauty and the Beast. The Derby-born writer, designer, producer and dame isn’t just the creative force behind Jack and the Beanstalk, his Little Wolf Entertainment company is behind another three pantos this year.
He says: ‘We had 12 nominations in the panto awards last year which is really encouraging for a company our size. We are in our third year of five-star reviews at Loughborough. We are building something that people do see as good quality, good value family entertainment. For Jack and the Beanstalk we have a great cast and Duncan is a bit of a coup – a West End leading man spending time in Derby at Christmas.
‘Jack is such a big story – giants, beanstalks – and at Derby Arena we have the space to deal with a story like that. Last year was great but once you have played that space for 43 shows you know how to use it better and we also want to challenge ourselves to come up with some new things. ‘This is my third time doing Jack and the Beanstalk, but this is a whole new show – new script, sets, costumes and that’s lovely. Pantos can get formulaic and we want to give people something they haven’t seen before and blow their socks off.’
Morgan will be back on stage in Derby again this year in an array of dazzling frocks as Dame Trott. ‘There is an expectation,’ he says. ‘You have to be outrageous, silly and have a ludicrous range of frocks. But the nice thing about this panto is that Dame Trott is Jack’s mum, and therefore is more of a plot point.’
Morgan takes great pride in putting on the big Christmas show in his home town. He says: ‘I grew up watching pantos in Derby and I want to give kids today the experience I had. I want it to be a real quality introduction to theatre that’s story led but also funny, imaginative and well thought out. I bought a house in Little Eaton two years ago and it’s rare for an actor to be working so close to home. Instead of finding digs and all those things I can put all my energy into the show.’
Morgan is also promising more surprises this Christmas. ‘We flew Gwen Taylor out over the audience last year, so we have to think what’s our “wow” moment this year. I don’t want to say too much but there will be a beanstalk – I don’t think that’s a spoiler alert – but it’s how well we do that. I hope it’s a bit more of a surprise and there’s something different about the giant...’
Lawrence Boothman – Cesspit
Derby couldn’t have a better villain for audiences to direct their boos at than Lawrence Bootham. As the Sheriff of Nottingham in Loughborough Town Hall’s Robin Hood he was named Best Male Baddie at the Great British Panto Awards 2018.
Now he’s turning his villainous attentions to Derby Arena as Cesspit in Jack and the Beanstalk.
He says: ‘I have always been a fan of panto. I remember being very young and seeing Aladdin back home in Scotland and thinking it was just wonderful. It was so colourful and funny and I always loved the baddie as well.
‘I don’t come from a theatrical background and didn’t know any actors, so it wasn’t a dream for me back then but when I became a teenager I started to realise that people got paid for that and maybe I could do it. As a child it was just pure escapism.
‘Last year was the first panto I’ve ever done and it’s very addictive. Morgan once played an Ugly Sister in Cinderella and found it difficult as he was being booed and not cheered. But I love it and the more people boo, the more I like it. I think if they didn’t react at all, that’s when I would be worried.’
So, what does Lawrence see as the secret of playing a good baddie? ‘The director last year said pace was essential and I think that’s important. You have to keep the energy up. You don’t want the show to drag. As a villain I aim to come on as a whirlwind and bring a lot of energy to it. Panto is also very visual, so the costume and make-up also give me ideas of how Cesspit will behave. But he will be Scottish... I feel that.’ u
Jack and the Beanstalk will be staged at Derby Arena from 8th December to 5th January 2019. To book call 01332 255800, go online at derbylive.co.uk or in person at the Assembly Rooms, Market Place, Derby.