PANTO REVIEW: Jack will leave you full of beans

Jack and the Beanstalk cast
Jack and the Beanstalk cast

Christmas is coming and that can only mean one thing... panto season is upon us – and you’ll be full of beans if you check out the Alban Arena’s offering this festive season.

Jack and the Beanstalk has arrived just down the road in St Albans and star billing this year is Steve McFadden (EastEnders’ Phil Mitchell).

Playing the evil Fleshcreep must come quite naturally to Steve, who swaps bullying the likes of Ian Beale around in Walford for a role as the aspiring nasty leader of Gigglewick.

Soap fans will be delighted with the Albert Square references throughout this panto, including the clever usage of the dum-dum-dum-dum-dum cliffhanger closing music to which a bemused Fleshcreep explains to the audience “it happens everytime I say something dramatic”.

He’s the perfect panto baddie, who reveals how he hates children and adds: “Keep booing, because I love boos (booze)” - a clever reference to his EastEnders’ character being a former alcholic.

But it’s not all about Steve. We have the excellent Wink Taylor as Billy Trott (who has one of the best scenes which involves using his head to mix ice-cream in a bucket), Andrew Bryant as our hero Jack Trott, Ian Kikby as the ever-so-posh King Eric, and Rebecca Keatley (CBeebies) as Fairy Sugarsnap, who all play their part in making this great family entertainment.

Returning as the Alban Arena’s leading lady is Jemma Carlisle (last year’s Cinderella), but stealing the show once again - and back for his fourth consecutive panto at the venue - is Bob Golding who was persuaded to wear a lovely frock and balance a plant pot on his head for much of the performance.

The panto is taken up a notch as soon as he enters the fray and reveals: “My name (this year) is Dame Trott. Yes dads, I’m single and looking for a man.”

Unfortunately for a chap called Peter in row D that man was him for the next two hours.

The gags come thick and fast, including an advent calendar joke at Luton’s expense, a clever (and very challenging for Dame Trott and Billy) set-piece involving what must have been Tony Blackburn’s entire back catalogue of vinyl records, and some really cheesy lines from nasty Fleshcreep where he warns everyone to tread Caephilly and points out how he doesn’t give Edam!

After hearing the booming voice of the giant in the early part of the show, a real treat is in store when Jack makes it up to Cloud Land for Act Two as he comes face to face with the frightening creature.

In fact my children’s eyes were out on (bean)stalks when they saw the impressive foe.

But how will this enormous Ogre be defeated? A tin of peas and some exciting audience participation proves its undoing. But to reveal more would spoil the surprise.

Throw in some great songs – Happy (Despicable Me 2), Let It Go (Frozen) and Life’s A Happy Song (The Muppets) all given a panto twist - and there really is plenty to make a song and dance about.

Don’t miss out on this fe-fi-fo-fun brought to you courtesy of Evolution Productions.

See www.alban-arena.co.uk or call the Box Office on 01727 844488.