You know it’s going to be a good one when at least half a dozen little punters have to be taken out to recover even before the main curtain has gone up. They were screaming as a mauve-lit Giant stalked in the shadows among the dry ice, but laughing some two hours later as this fast, funny, witty and colourful Jack and the Beanstalk finally resolved into a wonderful wedding walkdown. Michael Fentiman’s ‘traditional’ but nicely tweaked panto is one of the best I’ve seen.
He has a strong cast. Co-writer Matt Crosby is a gloriously outrageous Dame Trott, while Rolan Bell as Silly Billy is superb at involving the audience. Jonny Weldon makes the absolute most of his (slightly) diminutive stature as Jack, and the trio keep the show dashing along. Stephen Beckett is a maliciously supercilious Squire Nastee (who custard-pies the youngest female member of the fantastic dance ensemble within two minutes of his arrival and strips the head off a teddy during the next five), and Sophie Isaacs is a warmly feisty Jill.
Fentiman and Crosby nod knowingly to their university audience - how many pantos will include ‘narcoleptic’, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, Justin Bieber and veganism in the plot this Christmas? - so there’s plenty to keep everybody amused. The first half is slightly too long, but the overall pace and magical ensemble feel mean you leave the theatre exhilarated. Good stuff.