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Review: Jack and the Beanstalk at Gala Theatre, Durham, until January 7

IN the hurly burly of the action featuring Jack, his magic beans, a giant and a pantomime cow, in comes Fairy Hazbean (Jane Holman) strumming along to her rendition of Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head.

IN the hurly burly of the action featuring Jack, his magic beans, a giant and a pantomime cow, in comes Fairy Hazbean (Jane Holman) strumming along to her rendition of Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head.

The younger ones in the audience might not have known the words but everyone recognised the take on Thriller, another of the madcap moments that punctuated the otherwise familiar story.

And such one-off moments are the stuff of panto which here, in a production written and directed by Gala’s former boss Simon Stallworthy, delivers all the usual “he’s behind you!” and slapstick basics alongside some lovely home-spun humour and Geordie-isms.

Many of these come courtesy of Dame Shrivell – another hilarious performance from Donald McBride who is joined by fellow panto regulars Neil Armstrong – making his villainous return, this time as Fleshcreep – and Paul Hartley and Jane Deane as brother and sister pairing Jack and Jill, whose comic antics include a very funny milking episode involving an endearing Milkshake the cow.

While the pair keep the children on board, Fleshcreep’s banter with a lady in the front row was certainly enjoyed by grown-ups (relieved it wasn’t them) as were the local jokes. Spennymoor came in for a bit of a drubbing – but that’s all part of the fun.

The bellowing voiceover of the unseen giant, with his fe, fi, fo, fums and demands for tasty human morsels to satisfy his appetite, is that of Brian Blessed as, in this version of the tale, Jack and co climb the beanstalk to his lair so that they can free love interest Lucy, who’s been taken there by Fleshcreep for the hungry giant.

It’s all great fun and has everything you want in a panto, plus colourful cut-out sets, wacky costumes, good chorus dance routines and – a great addition to the show – live music.

The Gala is onto a winner with the local cast of regulars – joined here by Hayley Emma Otway as Lucy and Mark Stratton as her Baron father – who have become great favourites, and the panto’s truly regional flavour is a real bonus.

It’s comfortable, familiar stuff with everyone there – cast and audience alike – clearly having a whale of a time.

The only addition I’d have liked to see is a child invited on stage – if only because a small boy sitting in front of me had his hand in the air much of the time, desperate to be picked.

 

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