Jack and the Beanstalk

Forum Theatre, Billingham

WAS it really possible to top last year's amazing Beauty and The Beast? Yes, is the resounding opinion, and by the looks on the audience's faces it's an opinion shared by everyone who comes to see it.

Billingham Forum Theatre's panto is a tradition that never fails to deliver.

Its formula for great panto is to ensure the audience gets what it expects and boy they doesn’t let anyone down, with fantastic dancing, a great choice of songs, a villainous anti-hero, daft sidekicks, a larger than life dame, and a feel good show that has everyone laughing and smiling.

Introduced and narrated throughout by seasoned songbird Katy Allen as Fairy Beansprout, we are led into the village to meet our local Princess Jill (Victoria Holtom of previous pantos and now also a TV star).

Princess Jill loves to wander through the markets and it's here that she catches the eye of our hero Jack (Oakley Richard of CBBC fame) and his brother, Simple Simon (Liam Mellor – the hardest working guy in panto land and owner of the biggest smile and daftest voices).

Jack is determined to marry Jill, but first he must appease his mother Dame Trott (Robert Squire, now a stalwart of Billingham pantos as well as a firm favourite) and sell their beloved cow to raise money to pay the rent. Sadly for them, it's the villainous Fleshcreep (Connor McIntyre, the wicked Pat Phelan from Corrie) who owns their house and he's in no mood to be charitable.

Jack is tricked into swapping Daisy for some magic beans and the rest, as we know, is fairytale magic.

This year not only are there fabulous sets transporting you from the local village all the way to the giant's castle in the clouds, but the aforementioned giant Blunderbor is huuggge and a little bit scary – his booming voice and red eyes gives him a real sense of menace which makes it even more joyous when hero Jack vanquishes him.

There is plenty of call and response (oh yes there is!), side-splittingly funny routines, big surprises (just be careful where your seats are) and fabulous audience participation, especially when Simple Simon brings some up to help (just what noise does a giraffe make?).

Comedy duo Luke & Elliott (as the Brokers Men) ensure the silliness is never far away and, judging by the howls of laughter coming from all around, their timing was spot on, especially during their hypnotising scene which had them laughing almost as much as the audience were.

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The soundtrack is packed with fun, backed by lots of brilliant dance routines for which Meg, Lewis, Chiara, Liam, Harriette and Holly deserve special mention. There isn’t a moment when they're not on stage throughout the whole show – and they and look fabulous. A standout number is Fleshcreep's solo, When You're a Baddy (playfully reworked from The Addams Family musical When You're An Adams), which is brilliant, with Connor being simply perfect in the deliciously dastardly way he entrances Princess Jill to join in his song and dance routine.

All in all, Billingham Forum has once again produced a fantastic pantomime for the whole family. If you can only see one this Christmas, make it this one. It would be a giant mistake not to.

Jack & The Beanstalk is at Forum Theatre, Billingham, until December 31. Visit forumtheatrebillingham.co.uk or call the box office on 01642 552663 for more information and tickets.

Andy Bramfitt