Every year at this time our newspaper is asked the same question by its readers.
How good is the panto at Harrogate Theatre?
The answer matters, not only because of the huge financial contribution it makes to the theatre’s wellbeing, but because of the place it occupies in the heart of readers, school children and panto fans across the district.
For this annual feast of fun for all the family is an institution in Harrogate, nearly as much a part of the festive season as Santa himself.
The good news is that Beauty and the Beast, which launched last Wednesday and runs to January 21, is very good, indeed.
The enchanting tale of how Belle eventually soothes the savage Beast is packed with silliness and fun, as you’d expect from any good panto.
As always, however, the Harrogate Theatre panto also oozes class from start to finish, and always in the best possible taste.
With a top calibre cast, Tom Bainbridge plays a very dignified Beast straight from touring Billy Elliot The Musical while Phil Stewart, who plays the extravagant dame Pam Au Chocolat with panache (or is that ganache?), has appeared in everything from Waiting For Godot to The Bill, this should almost be a given.
But what separates Harrogate Theatre from the pack is the script. As written once again by the theatre’s dynamic duo, director Phil Lowe in tandem and the chief executive David Bown, its success rests on the intelligence and freshness it brings to a world of traditional story lines and predictable tomfoolery.
Making sterling contributions are Maisey Bawden as Bell, Ross Watson as Baron Bon Bon and boo-tastic Katy Dean as ace baddie Mona Lisa.
Best of all, however, is someone who always lives up to his legend - Harrogate Theatre stalwart Tim Stedman, a man born to star in panto.
Back for the 18th year , this time in the role of bungling joker Muddles, so brilliantly funny is his performance that if you said to me the admission price only covered the three minute sketch in the first half where this ultimate crowd pleaser performs a magical trick involving only a handkerchief and a banana, I would reply “it’s worth it.”
Also appearing in Beauty and the Beast were young dancers from St Aidan's High School in Harrogate.
Harrogate Theatre's pantomime for 2018-19 will be Jack and the Beanstalk running from Movember 28 to January 20.
Tickets are on sale now at the theatre box office,