Ten minutes into this year’s York Theatre Royal and we’d already called it: Jack and the Beanstalk is five-star family entertainment, and one of the best pantos we’ve seen there for years. From the pared-down opening scene, it was clear that this show is doing things differently and better than ever.
The York Theatre Royal panto has been a non-negotiable part of our family Christmas for decades, and it’s fair to say that we’ve passed the love of this bizarre British tradition onto our kids. As we walked to the theatre, they chattered on about the pantos of the past (our eldest girl was just a few weeks old the first time she went), their favourite funny bits and even the food they had to eat on the way home. It was a good reminder of just how much it means to all of us to keep the panto tradition going, whatever their age and whatever the show.
And the good news is that this year is a vintage one for the Theatre Royal. From start to finish, it’s panto perfection. From the casting to the sets, music to dancing, old favourites to new elements, it’s familiar enough to regulars to feel comforting but with an energy, excitement and unpredictability that had the audience in its palm right up to the curtain call. It’s hard to say what we enjoyed most: Dave the cow or the water fight? The teenage giant or the boyband number? The milk rap or Dame Trott’s battle against the weather? It’s hard to say, but the massive bouncing tomato has to be up there too (we’ve never seen anything quite like it).
We couldn’t agree on our favourite characters either: Nina Wadia fizzes as Fairy Sugarsnap and James Mackenzie’s hilarious as Luke Backinanger, the baddie with a terrifically traumatic boyband backstory. Mia Overfield is perfectly cast as Jack, and Matthew Curnier’s brilliant Billy had us all high-fiving from our seats. We adored Anna Soden’s Dave the Cow too (what a voice! Her Barbie-inspired solo is udderly brilliant) but a special mention must go to Robin Simpson as Dame Trott, whose energy – and incredible outfits – make it a sharp, pacey, several-laughs-a-minute experience. Oh, and there’s a special four-legged friend in this year’s show too; no spoilers, but he’s quite the star. York Theatre Royal’s Jack and the Beanstalk is a cracking Christmas show and another one for our family’s all-singing, all-dancing panto memory box. Fabulous.
Jack and the Beanstalk runs at York Theatre Royal until 7th January 2024