Harrogate Theatre: Jack & The Beanstalk
Can Harrogate Theatre's latest magical family panto launched this week live up to its growing reputation as one of the best in the whole country?
The laughter and cheers for the first day's performance of Jack and the Beanstalk earlier today, Thursday suggest the answer is a giant 'yes'.
In truth, the high standards of this popular festive institution for generations of schoolchildren - and their parents - is there to see almost before any of the singing and dancing and "oh yes he is" and quick-witted banter.
The sets, created by Harrogate Theatre's own talented homegrown behind the scenes team, have always been impressive but, combined with a stunning, cinematic use of lighting by new set and costume designer, Morgan Brind, this year's Harrogate Theatre panto reaches a whole new level.
As with most years, there's a lot riding on the panto's success - just as there is for the latest Harry Potter or James Bond movie.
And like the latter, this Harrogate blockbuster is essentially built on a formula, albeit with the odd tweak or innovation each time.
No smut, no celebrities, just a lot of fun, a lot of intelligence and good old-fashioned proper story-telling.
Oh, and a plethora of in-jokes about life in Harrogate and national politics!
Of course, unlike most modern-day pantos, it's all done in the best possible taste with good manners and a strong sense of ethics.
The core of the plotline even manages to address climate change.
Not that that any of that matters, ultimately.
Even if the script wasn't such a detailed work of art, the crowd-pleasing cast is good enough to handle anything thrown at them.
Pitch perfect peformances all round, from Christina Harris, who plays the feisty Princess Jill, to Harriett Hare sharp as a cutting remark as a truly female Jack (a first!) to the two actors upon whom any good panto could be built - the legendary Tim Stedman as the hilariously silly Simon Trott (panto can never die while this man lives) and another wonderful Harrogate regular Howard Chadwick an utter joy in an array of outrageous costmes in the role of Dame Trott.
Even the so-called lesser characters in this year's production are played with aplomb.
Cast newcomers Polly Smith turns the Fairy of the Forest into an essential character while George Telfer gives a likably laconic twist as a laidback panto villain Flesh Creep.
So is Harrogate Theatre's Jack and the Beanstalk a Skyfall or a Quantmum of Solace?
As written by David Bown and Phil Lowe and directed by the latter, there's no doubt as to the answer.
Wait a minute, did I mention the giant really is giant!
Jack and the Beanstalk runs at Harrogate Theatre until January 20, 2109.
Please note, most of the performances in December are sold out.
WIN A SET OF FAMILY TICKETS FOR HARROGATE PANTO BEFORE CHRISTMAS
Only in this week's Harrogate Advertiser (print edition) in news shops now!