Review - Harrogate Panto is a giant-sized hit

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Jack & The Beanstalk, Harrogate Theatre.

My enduring memory of Jack & The Beanstalk – this year’s panto at Harrogate Theatre – will be of my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter head-butting me in the teeth in her horror at seeing a giant menacingly stomping its way on to the stage, writes Rory Ffoulkes.

Little wonder, either, for when I say ‘giant’, I mean giant as in the word should be spelled out across this page in cartoonishly huge capital letters and accompanied by an overabundance of exclamation marks.

Rumours had abounded before this production opened that the audience would be in for a ‘giant’ surprise but there is no way without actually seeing it for yourself that you could anticipate the quite shockingly colossal scale of the mechanised man-eating brute.

Nor could you understand how lifelike its movements are, particularly to a little girl convinced that it will reach out and gobble her down like a tube of Smarties. That’s not to say, though, that the girl-child was scared beyond all measure.

She’s made of stern stuff and, as kids do, quickly regained her composure after the initial shock and got on with enjoying the show.

Much there is to enjoy about this panto, too. The plot, of course, is not a complicated one but has enough twists and turns to keep adult and child alike intrigued and, though - if one were to be ultra-critical - the first act was a little long for very small children like mine, the second act more than made up for that by being extremely well-paced.

The performances are strong, with the main baddie, Fleshcreep – played by Philip Stewart – the star of the show and the script is littered with topical, locally specific jokes for the adults to enjoy.

As you’d expect in modern panto, the show incorporates instantly recognisable, well-choreographed song-and-dance numbers such as panto versions of One Direction and Rizzle Kicks hits that add just a little more energy to the show.

There are some great moments, such as Fleshcreep disguising himself as a dancing girl to kidnap the strikingly Kate Middleton-esque Princess Jill and – as somebody that has publicly admitted to having been somewhat obsessed with WWF in their pre-adolescence – I was naturally delighted by the wrestling motif that ensues as part of the extended dénouement.

Perhaps the very best thing about Jack & The Beanstalk, though, is the outstanding quality, scale and variety of the sets, which change swiftly and seamlessly, creating settings that blend pleasing references to local landscapes such as Brimham Rocks and Menwith Hill with the imagined and fantastical.

The lighting, too, is terrific – in particular, the gungy, slimy green atmosphere that it helps pervade whenever Fleshcreep enters the stage – and some of the hi-tech effects are such that you wonder quite how shows like these managed to ‘wow’ children in the past.

Ultimately, Jack & The Beanstalk is a hugely enjoying spectacle that does what it is supposed to: namely, to transfix children while including enough content and visual treats to keep the adults entertained.

A good job all round, and a great end to a year in which Harrogate Theatre has re-established itself as one of the best theatres in Yorkshire.