THERE is nothing like a Dame, or so they say.

Well there’s nothing like Phillip Meeks, Sunderland born and bred, and right at home in the Empire as Dame Nellie Trott.

Engaging, enthusiastic and loud, Meeks is the glue which holds the panto together from start to raucous finish.

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She has costumes galore, each as loud and brash as the character. Naturally one of them is red and white like a Sunderland strip, complete with black and white bloomers.

But that’s not to take anything from the others in the fine cast.

Bill Ward – Fleshcreep – is a villain and fun and menace. There’s a few quips to his glorious past in Coronation Street (Charlie Stubbs) and the Newcastle native is loving being back in the North-East for Christmas.

Jack is, naturally, the hero. David Barrett is here rather than touring in Legally Blonde has a fine voice and is a marriage made in, well a beanstalk, with Jade Natalie’s Jill.

There’s the Vegetable Fairy, played warmly by Janine Duvitski, her of Benidorm fame and the village idiot – Simple Simon, played by Charlie Guest, who keeps the children going throughout with his silly jokes, antics and securing some true audience participation.

The first-half may be a bit of a slow burner, but the show explodes out of the stage in more ways than one later on.

The 3D effects are superb, with the crowd screeching and screaming, ducking and diving as they avoid the insects, ghosts and giant at the top of his beanstalk.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs until Sunday, January 7. Go and see it before it’s too late.

Tickets are available from the Empire box office, by calling 0844 871 3022 or ATGtickets.com/Sunderland.