What a Christmas cracker of a panto they've got on their hands at Milton Keynes Theatre this year with Jack and the Beanstalk fully deserving to be a giant success based on what I witnessed last night (Tuesday).
Headlining this year are Britain's Got Talent winners and street dance sensations Ashley Banjo and Diversity who star as Jack and his siblings, but it's was no exaggeration to say the entire cast was magnificent - and my family left the theatre full of beans!
Set in the village of Roundybout (a tribute to MK's apparent 132 roundabouts) and later Cloudland, the action gets under way as we're introduced to the Fleshcreep (Daniel Boys) who looks and plays the part of the giant's henchman brilliantly. He got the audience booing with great gusto from the moment he spoke of serving up some steak and kiddie pie!
Pete Firman as Jack's brother Simon ensured there was never a dull moment with his mix of banter, slapstick action, wisecracks ("turn up the mic, they can't be hearing my jokes") and magic moments, such as making a bowling ball appear out of thin air, and later on a fast-paced trick involving bottles and glasses.
We then meet Jack Land Noble who excelled as Dame Trot and Gina Murray who was spellbinding as Mother Nature, before Diversity join the fun with the first of several dance routines that had my two teenagers gasping at some of the moves.
Making panto fresh can be a challenge at times, but a routine between Simon, Dame Trot and Princess Jill (Laura Evans) where their sentences were finished off with the insertion of song snippets was inspired and something a little different this year.
Some old favourite routines that I'd seen at MK before did return but they were so polished (such as the saucepan and spoon gag) that it wasn't at all painful to watch - just painful for Simon!
I also didn't expect to see a helicopter fly above us as part of the plot - who needs a beanstalk to get to Cloudland when you've got a big chopper (ahem!)?
And speaking of the beanstalk, that grew pretty impressively after Mother Nature cast a spell on the beans which Fleshcreep had conned Simon into trading for Daisy the Cow.
Part two saw the cast attempt to rescue Daisy and bring down the giant (who was also an impressive towering prop).
The plot manufactured an excuse for a hilarious dance-off between Simon and Diversity's Perri, with the former doing enough to be recruited into the troupe (including a seriously impressive running somersault - but by a stunt double!). In fact congratulations to choreographer Ashley for managing to work out a way for the village idiot (sorry Simon!) and a panto cow to be seamlessly included in their routines.
After a feast of entertainment, the icing on the theatrical cake was the "If I Was Not in Pantomime..." song which involved five of the cast members armed with, among other things, a cricket bat, a frying pan, and a watergun (aimed at one particular section of the audience who got a right soaking), which had a painful consequences for one of the group!
At the end of the show the cast got a richly deserved standing ovation and Ashley spoke about how, due to the pandemic, performing in front of a live audience was something he'd never take for granted again.
What you can take for granted though is if you go to see Jack and the Beanstalk you won't be disappointed.
Performances run until Saturday, January 8. To book see the website or call 0844 871 7615.