Harrogate Theatre is to make a rare break from tradition when it launches its ‘magical family panto’ next week.
This hugely popular production is famed for its family-friendly, celebrity-free approach to what has become an essential highlight of Harrogate’s festive season - and counts legendary actor Sir Ian McKellen among its fans.
But, for the first time when the curtain rises next Wednesday night, the ‘Jack’ in Jack and the Beanstalk will not only be played by a woman, the character itself will be female.
The change is not a sign that gender wars have reached Harrogate Theatre or that it’s traditional values have been dispensed with, say Harriett Hare, who will play Jack.
It’s just another example of the massive effort that goes into making the theatre’s biggest annual money-spinner new again each time, said the actor who first appeared in Harrogate panto in Dick Whittington in 2016.
Harriett Hare said: “We’re not really doing a Dr Who or gender politics. Jack has always been played by female actors.
“Fundamentally it’s the same character but it gives a different energy in playing the role as a woman, not a man.
“I've never played Jack before but I'm playing her as quite feisty.
"It’s nice to have more female parts in general.”
Harrogate Theatre’s chief executive David Bown, who, as co-scriptwriter, has formed an incredibly successful partnership with director Phil Lowe, said the aim of the show was always to be entertaining, always to be fresh and always to bring intelligence to this much-loved part of the calendar.
Oh - and big songs.
David Bown said: “As pantos go, Jack and the Beanstalk is one of the top favourites and this one is going to be particularly spectacular.
“The set is almost built and it looks incredible, the giant has arrived - and he’s big. I urge everyone to come along. They won’t be disappointed.”
Spoiler alert! There will be no romance between Princess Jill and Jack in this version of Jack and the Beanstalk but the town’s favourite panto star, Tim Stedman will be back for his 19th year in a row.
The likably effervescent actor is always a comic highlight and this year will see him bringing his silly-billy best to the role of Simon Trott, Jack’s ever-so silly little brother.
Time may not be taking its toll on Tim’s enthusiasm or talent but he admits he is not quite as athletic as he once was.
Tim Stedman said: “I don’t quite throw myself around the stage like I used to but the dancers are keeping me fit enough. I’ve lost a few pounds in rehearsals!
"The sets are amazing. We've never had so many people coming on set before. Even the lights are spectacular. It's all very glittery!"
Harriett Hare, who said it was lovely to be back with such a talented team, paid tribute to her co-star's influence.
She said: "Working with Tim is like a workshop in panto. He knows so much and can do so much."
Also still locked in rehearsal is another member of this year’s cast, Christina Harris who is playing Princess Jill.
Christina said the panto’s set designs and costumes by the award-winning new designer Morgan Brind had to be seen to be believed - especially the beanstalk itself.
Christina Harris said: “The rapport among the cast is wonderful but there’s been a few Bear Grylls moment already climbing the beanstalk - it’s huge!”
Harrogate panto: How to get tickets
Harrogate Theatre’s Jack and the Beanstalk opens on Wednesday, November 28 and runs until January 20, 2019. Each performance runs for two-and-a-half hours, including an interval.
Please note, there is now very limited availability for all December performances.
Book online at the Harrogate Theatre website or call the Harrogate Theatre’s box office on 01423 502116.
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