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REVIEW: Cinderella & The Beanstalk at Newcastle Stand

Live, Laugh, Love!

Cinderella & The Beanstalk
Newcastle Stand Comedy Club
Saturday 7th - Monday 30th December 2019

It was a last-minute decision, just like last year. We booked to see the final performance of the Stand Panto. We had fun last year and were in need of cheering up. As it happens, they've kept the magical formula of keeping it funny (not always remembered in panto) and we left with smiles on our faces. So, just like Cinderella, we believe in magic too!

We don't normally talk about the start of pantos as they usually follow a similar format of introductions and exposition. But there again, pantos don't usually start with checking out last year's reviews...

Lee Kyle, one of the region's most naturally funny people, starts by warming up the crowd. It is great being under 13. My 16-year-old agreed about turning gothy in his outlook even if not his musical tastes. Before long all 4 actors are on stage and wondering if they can create the best panto in town? No. What about the second best? No. Then up pops our tweet from a year ago calling last year's Snow White 2 the third best show in the North East complete with fanfare. Here's the point, for us: it’s not about budget – it’s about entertainment. Once again, they kept the Stand crowd laughing. Sometimes it was mainly the kids. Other times it was mainly adults (crisps anyone?) However, for the bulk of the time it was everyone.

Some pantomime conventions are kept in but the dodgy casual sexism, racism, misogyny and homophobia, which can creep into shows, are out.

So. That title. This is a story mashup. But rather than call it Beanstalk 2 we have Lee Kyle as Andrew the giant. Andrew is the son of the giant killed by Jack. Hal Branson plays Jack, so his character killed the Giant's Dad. So far so good. The pair of them then stumble over Cinderella (Hannah Walker) who is being bullied by ugly twins Salt and Pepper (both performed by Sammy Dobson) as they have been invited to the Prince's ball.

How do you get twins performed by one person? Use a large television screen for one character if they both need to appear and ensure that they have very different personalities. Salt is the abrasive chav. Brilliantly observed in terms of speech and attitude. Pepper is the more thoughtful goth. You kind of know that she’ll come good at the end. The differences in these two characters is an indication that this is a fresh story, credited as written by the cast, that isn’t shunted onto a set route by previous takes on the tale.

The television comes handy two for some location shots, at Newcastle Castle, with cast members who are not present in the flesh. For example Games of Thrones star Ben Crompton appears as the King, Amy Gledhill as the Fairy Godmother, and Katherine Tanney spits venom as Cinders’ new Stepmother.

Once again, Lee Kyle has been weaving his magic with lyrics for the songs as they occasionally pop up. You end up with a classic track that you will recognise the music too but with new lyrics that fit the story. This includes a reworking of a Sex Pistols hit. Do I ever feel cheated? Not in the slightest as the songs were a laugh for the audience. The natural comic talent on stage being more than comfortable with encouraging audience participation during some of the hits.

No panto we’ve seen is perfect. For my penny’s worth (not that anyone is asking!) I would have gone to the interval a couple of scenes earlier rather than leaving poor Cinders tied up and the younger members of the audience worried about her future. Going much longer than an hour with a young crowd can always be dangerous if their bladders are full of pop. This was, at 2.45 hours, our longest panto of the season. Now you could argue that this was added value for money. Even so, it might have benefitted from a little trimming around the seams the get the timing down a little.

This was a fabulous afternoon at the Stand. It may be on a tight budget, but the show has been carefully crafted by a local professional team that have paid attention to detail. This is a great hardworking little cast. At the end of the show the audience left with big smiles on their faces and it didn’t cost a fortune. In the rich variety of panto in our region, there is a place for a genuine low cost, well written and funny panto that relies on good laughs rather than special effects to provide the wow factor. Let’s hope they return next year.

And for what it’s worth: my young companion has rated this show his favourite of the season. So you’re going to have to change that jingle.

Review by Stephen Oliver


REVIEW: Cinderella at Sunderland Empire

A Magical Pantomime

Sunderland Empire
Until Sunday 5th January 2020
Tickets on sale now online from our affiliates ATG Tickets:  #Ad

Last year’s panto at the Empire was when the show re-discovered its mojo. This year’s fine panto builds upon that success to produce an even more glamorous and funny delight that is a real Wearside treat. Strong characters from the hardworking cast appear in a show that sticks to the narrative. This is a magical pantomime…oh, yes it is!

Initially appearing as the Fairy on the Top of the Tree, Scarlett Moffatt, is quickly promoted to Fairy Godmother. Her first assignment is to take care of Cinderella (Gemma Naylor) whose Dad, Baron Hardup (Jimmy Johnson, who also directs) has returned as a newly married man. The extended family includes a pair of stepsisters for Cinders. In Ruby (Duncan Burt) and Rorina (Miss Rory) we possibly have the most glamorous ugly sisters in pantoland. It is their sharp acerbic wit and viscous repartee which shows their nasty cruel ugly side.  This change is a welcome one from the usual hackneyed stereotype.

At least Cinderella has her BFF – Buttons, performed by the energetic Tom Whalley. Along with Miss Rory and Scarlett Moffatt, Tom added a welcome North Eastern flavour to the Empire show. “He was fab, never laughed so much” (a friend of ours elsewhere in the theatre). Talking of which – this is a Sunderland panto. The local references were very local. There’s no need to talk about the obvious rival city up the road when you’ve got plenty of closer locations to laugh at.

Of course, we need a love interest and that comes in the form of Prince Charming (Jon Moses), who along with his valet Dandini (Sam Ebenezer), decides to have a ball to find the lady he met in the woods. Both have great singing ability as demonstrated in their individual performance and their “bromantic” duets. It occurred to me tonight though…why do the Ugly Sisters always leave their house in one outfit and arrive at the ball in another – what happens in between to cause a complete change of outfit? We need to know? Perhaps that’s a panto in itself. But, I digress…

The panto looks great. Fabulous sets and costumes are a big feature. For example: one scene has a water wheel. Rather than just one that is painted of a cloth we had a moving water wheel in the set. It is the level of attention that raises this show above the competition.  Cinderella should look special and, having completed our tour of the professional pantos in the region, this season’s elegant Cinderella is at the Empire.

This is a great cast, operating under tight direction, with a terrific script.  Scarlett appears in her first panto and is at home as the fairy. Tom is, by the same token, a panto veteran. From the apparently improvised moments through to the delicate handling of the kids during the community singing, Tom kept us all laughing. The community singing was a song called “I’m a Mackam Man” with the landmarks of the area, to the tune of “Music Man”, another great move. The show has a live band, under musical director Stephen Roberts, performing a great collection of songs. The show has Adam and the Ants’ Prince Charming but no Baby Shark.

Cinderella is magical. A great end to our pre-Christmas panto season.

Review by Stephen Oliver

Tickets available from the Sunderland Empire box office and online from our affiliates ATG Tickets:  #Ad


REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty at Gateshead Little Theatre

Sleeping Beauty
by Philip Meeks
Gateshead Little Theatre
Until Tuesday 24th December 2019

The second professional panto in Gateshead opened this week at the Little Theatre next to Saltwell Park. A combination of good laughs, a genuine local feel that referenced Gateshead rather than obvious north east locations and a real honesty makes this show worthy of consideration if you’re looking for cost effective festive entertainment.

Some of the authenticity is down to some quirky casting. Fairy Nightshade – the unscrupulous baddie of the piece – is the first on stage. Listed in the programme as performed by the Children’s magician and Entertainer ‘One & Only Wanda’, we have a very entertaining evil character who likes to wind up the kids. Talking to an offstage narrator rather than the good fairy seemed initially odd, to be honest as, as we’re usually in the business of introducing the characters on stage at the start.

The rest of the gang appear over the next couple of scenes. The panto has no separate comic, so much of the comedy heavy lifting is on the shoulders of Dame Bella Bluebell. The Dame is joined by King Kenny (Gerry Troughton) and Lord Chamberlain (Martin Anderson) at the christening of Princess Mary Rose. Forgetting to invite Fairy Nightshade results in a curse that will commence from the Princess’s 18th birthday hence the show quickly fast forwards to that celebration. As the curse involves pricking herself on a spinning wheel such appliances are banned. However, the evil one has a cunning plan. The Princess (Laura Scott) is soon in need of both Fairy Liquid (Dawn Wolfe) and a Prince (Simon Stuart) so the path is not straightforward.

Between the action the audience are entertained with the usual panto mix of singing from the cast and dancing from three principles (Beth Shannon, Megan Black and Scott Howes) and a group of ‘Babes’ that are uncredited in the programme. Choreographer Kathleen Knox makes the most of the tight space available.

I’m not sure if nerves were kicking in a little bit as the jokes were delivered a little fast most of the time and needed a slightly longer pause for a reaction. The show runs under the two hour mark, including interval, and slowing the delivery down a touch would, in opinion. Help the punchlines in Meek’s script land better.

Having said that, the show still finds the time to deliver a full range of panto goodness: a messy scene, a take off scene, a singing dinosaur and a crazy version of “If I was not in panto…” that had the audience howling with laughter. This is all wrapped up in a number of costumes, especially for the dame.

The show makes fun of some Gateshead (and in particular Low Fell) landmarks and areas. It also has a gentle prod at a certain national treasure’s strange on-TV Geordie accent, as well as a rival panto, which seemed to go down well. 

This is a canny Little honest panto that knows how to deliver the goods in order to keep the audience happy. We were entertained.


REVIEW: Present at Newcastle Alphabetti Theatre

Alphabetti Theatre in partnership with homeless charity CRISIS present:
Newcastle Alphabetti Theatre
Tuesday 17th – Monday 23rd December 2019 (including Sunday & Monday)

Written and Directed by Ali Pritchard
Performed & Choreographed by Malcolm Shields
Live music from Diji Solanke, Martha Wheatley & Wilf Stone

Created in partnership with Crisis Skylight - 5% of ticket sales will be donated to Crisis at Christmas, the UK national charity for the homeless.

Dave is in a park and there is a party going on in his head. The audience at Alphabetti know this as the three strong band are creating the Faithless hit Insomnia and Malcolm Shields, who appears as Dave, is bouncing around between swigs of his cheap cider. Alphabetti’s artistic director Ali Pritchard writes and directs another production that examines the predicament that the growing number of homeless people find themselves in. This production, which opened tonight, demands a lot of the single actor but Malcolm Shields delivers, and the audience left with no uncertain knowledge that they had witnessed a great piece of theatre.

Yes, this production comes with a message. With the apparent possible opportunity of hope for our resourceful character, comes some of the harsh realities for the increasing number of people that we pass in Newcastle’s city centre.  The audience will leave with an impression even though the show just lays out a scenario – without any preaching.

So, back to Dave dancing in the park…

Suddenly he gets a text message. His daughter wants to let him know that Dave’s 6 year old grandson would like to meet him at Christmas. But the visit is on one condition. He must be sober. For Dave, suffering from the cold nights without any company, this is going to be the biggest challenge that he has faced up to in along time.

In the hour long show we witness entrepreneurial spirit. We witness hope. We witness optimism. But crushing that spirit are the reactions of the public, and in particular, certain authority figures. This is one of those emotional rollercoasters.

Having said that, the show works because Malcolm presents a character who you immediately care about, someone who you want to succeed in his quest. It is so important for the empathy to factor in for the show to work. Perhaps it is that dancing at the beginning which breaks down the barriers so quickly?

The music works a treat. We’ve been going to Alphabetti for a long time and it is only in the relatively recent times that live music – musicals – have been a feature of some shows. It does work – it does add a vibrancy to the performance.

This is a pay what you feel show – which ties in nicely with the themes that are presented. Those who can afford / want to pay more can do, whilst those who cannot afford regular theatre can still attend and enjoy the show. Though on busy nights like tonight, they could do with another pay point as you leave (or bring back the big pot for the cash envelopes as the card reader is surrounded with a big queue of people willing to pay by card).

Sharp writing, considerate direction and animated musicians playing live all help create a graphic performance. It is Malcolm Shields, though, who makes this a vivid theatrical experience. Recommended.

Review : Stephen Oliver

Running time: approximately an hour, no interval
Age: 14+
Ticket Prices: Pay What You Feel

Alphabetti website:

NB: Relaxed performance: Thursday 19th Dec, 1pm

Preview: Festive Family Fun from Northumberland Theatre Company

Festive Family Fun from Northumberland Theatre Company

Beauty and the Beast,
Amble Dovecote Centre
Friday 20th to Tuesday 31st December 2019

The Snow Queen
On Tour

A double dose of festive fun is on the Christmas cards for families all over the region as the Northumberland Theatre Company gives the chance for youngsters of all ages to see two of their professional productions including Amble’s resident panto.

NTC is a professional small-scale touring theatre company based at the Dovecote Centre, Amble. Each of their show’s tours around the country, predominantly using village halls and community centres as venues in small rural towns and villages. One of the aims of NTC is to bring theatre to audiences who wouldn’t normally travel into the big cities or towns to see the arts.

The Snow Queen
The Snow Queen, is now showing in small community venues from Worcestershire to the Scottish Borders via Northumberland, Durham and North Yorkshire. In total, including extra schools’ performances there will be 42 shows.

With many years’ experience of writing drama, music and songs for theatre, TV and radio, Gillian and Rick Juckes have created a new musical adaption of Hans Christian Andersen’s much loved fairy-tale The Snow Queen is about true friendship and the lengths you would go to save your best friend. In this case, Kai needs to be rescued from the Snow Queen but not before a wealth of adventure for Gerda and her helpers – the Crow and the Reindeer.

Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast, the Amble Panto will run from December 20th to 31st December with 14 performances.

Created by and featuring many of the same team as last year’s successful Sleeping Beauty, join Belle in this classic story as she eventually finds her perfect prince. Packed with humour and with a cast of colourful characters that will delight young and old alike, this is a perfect Christmas treat that will have the whole family laughing and enchanted. Shakespearean actor  David McCarthy is upping his game to play the Bedlidoodle ( cross between a Bedlington terrier and a Poodle) his career may never recover. With tickets at just £10 or four for £35 this pantomime is one of the affordable professional panto in the region.

Artistic Director Gillian Hambleton said; “We are coming up to our 40th anniversary and every year we continue to entertain audiences of all ages. It’s a busy time for the company at Christmas but it’s so rewarding to know that we are bringing quality theatre to our communities.”
Amble Panto tickets:  
The Snow Queen Tour. Tickets from venues
17 Dec Longhorsley Village Hall
19th Blyth Phoenix Theatre
20th Newbiggin Maritime Centre
21st Chatton Village Hall
23 / 24 Capheaton Village Hall
30th The Exchange North Shields
2 Jan Dinnington Village Hall
3 Slaley Village Hall
16 Corenside Parish Hall
18 Etal Village Hall
19 Dovecote Centre Amble


REVIEW: Dick Whittington at Newcastle People’s Theatre

Dick Whittington 
by Philip Meeks
Newcastle People’s Theatre

Mark Robinson visited the pantomime at Newcastle’ People’s Theatre during the final weekend of its run and he has kindly sent in his review.

As the overture finished, the pyro flash cleared to reveal the evil Queen Rat, played by Kate Reilly. Within seconds the audience was booing and hissing. When there is evil, there is always good. The normal role of ‘Fairy Bow Bells’ was played by Paul Gaitskell as Spirit Of The Bells. At first, I was a bit unsure of a male fairy/spirit. By the second scene I was happy that this works, and it works well.

As the curtain rises we meet our Dick Whittington played by Evelyn Ryan and his cat Emma Cockburn. Both worked well together and Tommy did not speak but the facial expressions were enough to bring across the character very well. Alice Dalgleish and Stewart Davies appeared as Alice and Alderman Fitzwarren, a pairing which also added to the story very well.

But the two people who, in my opinion, brought the comedy to the show were Joe Robson and Steve Robertson, as Idle Jack and Sarah the Cook. Every time these two are on stage together you can see the chemistry and the fun that they are both having, which then rubs off on the audience. The ensemble and dancers, who were onstage often, worked well and filled the stage with ease.

My only negatives would be that the song choices were good but at times were too long and where I was sitting the music was loud but the vocals were very low. Overall the show was very good, and I can't wait to see their panto next year: Sleeping Beauty.

Review by Mark Robinson
Photos: John Brown


REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast at Hartlepool Town Hall Theatre

Beauty and the Beast
Hartlepool Town Hall Theatre
Saturday 14th - Sunday 29th December 2019

A fine pantomime opened this weekend in Hartlepool. A talented hardworking cast, accompanied by the best bunch of young dancers we’ve seen this season, deliver a funny show that is packed full of songs and mischief. The show gets a thumbs-up from us.

When does a panto turn in to a musical? When does a musical turn into a panto? This show for one, packs in more songs than any other. Certainly, the producer gets his money’s worth out of the dancers. It is a good job too that the young dancers were the best we’ve seen this season. (I seem to recall saying something similar a couple of years ago when they did the first panto in Hartlepool.) Old school panto fans will call them ‘babes’ but each one did a brilliant job sticking to the routines – and there was plenty of them as this show seemed saturated with songs. Having said that, it kept to 2 hours 20 – including interval, which is, as our regular readers will know, what we consider the sweet spot for a running time for a panto with lots of kids in the audience.

The story for Beauty and the Beast is less fixed than the narrative for many pantos. A quick check on the history suggests that the basis of the story dates back around 4000 years though the 1740 version by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve is, for many, the basis of the modern version. Of course, it is the 1991 Disney movie that will be known to the kids in the audience today (though for me it was the Ladybird book in my library that I remember).  As with Aladdin, Snow White and others, you cannot escape the magnetic attraction of the Disney version. So, whilst we are spared dancing clocks and crockery in Hartlepool, the father is an inventor rather than a merchant. We also have Belle meeting the Prince before the curse is put upon him. Having said that, the narrative of this version does flow well and makes sense – and making sense isn’t always guaranteed in panto.

Before I find myself writing an essay about the story I’d better get back to reviewing the show…

Fairy Flambe (Chloe Young) appears on stage first, with a plume of smoke, to introduce the kids to a little bit of French and to set the scene before the evil Grimalkin (Sean Hynes) makes her grand appearance to a chorus of boos from a Hartlepool audience that is well up for enjoying the show. As we’ve witnessed over the past month, a lively or a quiet audience can be the difference between a great panto and an experience that falls flat.  

In the village we meet Belle (Michelle Roberts) and her inventor Dad Maurice (Ray Castleton), as well as two of the staff at the princes’ castle, comic French Franc (Kilian McIntosh) and Dame Dolly Doughnut (Josh Handley).

In this story the pre-cursed Prince (Ben Featherstone) goes for a wander and he meets up with Belle. He also meets up and falls out with the wicked witch Grimalkin who puts a curse on him for rejecting her advances.  He retreats to the castle meanwhile Belle sends her Dad off to find a rose before he leaves, to as he needs to take his invention to Le Dragon’s Den in Paris.  This puts Dad and Belle on collision course with the angry Beast but fortunately castle staff Franc and Dame Dolly are there to assist.

This is an unusual panto cast. It feels more uniform than most shows. The lack of cast inexperience, especially from some “star” that has only got their role as they’re known on TV and it is hoped that they’ll sell tickets, ensures that you don’t have someone carrying a weak link on stage. Everyone who was expected to sing, could sing. The good people clearly were, the funny people were funny and Grimalkin was suitably evil (even bordering on likeable!). No one was trying to steal the limelight. No one was hiding behind the experienced panto performers. It felt much more of a team on stage. Credit where it is due: the cast were excellent.

We have witnessed one dodgy fairy this year and so it was pleasing to witness something magical about Chloe Young’s performance. Comic Kilian McIntosh quickly got the kids onside and laughing even when they were a little unsure at the start. For this is a safe panto for the young ones. Any dodgy jokes always getting clipped before their obvious punchline, just like Les Dawson used to on pre-watershed tv. Dame Josh Handley, likewise, smashed through the fourth wall and involved poor Richard, a member of the audience who was a good sport, just the right number of times.

For the magic of panto to work, there has to be an acceptance that Belle would fall in love with the Beast. The audience has to care about these characters. It worked in Hartlepool. I know as I heard a panicked young voice behind be exclaim as the rose was dying away. They were caught up in the tension of whether or not the couple would reunite in time. Sweet. Michelle Roberts and Ben Featherstone had enough onstage chemistry to bring the story alive.

So, we had a good storyline, good singing, good dancing, a hardworking and talented cast in costumes that looked glamorous plus that all important element: an audience that wanted to enjoy itself. Cheaper than a trip to the football and ice creams at just £1.50 a go means it is at the more affordable end of the price range without feeling cheap.  All in all, a canny,  enjoyable panto.

Review: Stephen Oliver

Tickets are priced at £17 for adults, £15 for children or £55 for a family (2 adults and 2 children).

To book tickets, or to obtain a full list of performance times, visit or the box office on (01429) 890000 (Tuesdays-Fridays 10am – 4.30pm, Saturdays 10am–4pm).


REVIEW: Cinderella at Gateshead International Stadium

Gateshead International Stadium
Until Sunday 29th December 2019

Situated in a gymnasium at the Gateshead International Stadium, Cinderella appears in a pop-up theatre venue during December. Produced by a team that are no strangers to creating pantomime in the region, having staged panto at the Tyne Theatre & Opera House for 21 years until 2016 before moving here. This show is a traditional panto that reminds me of the shows I saw as I was growing up.

Here’s the thing with pop up panto – turning a large gym into a theatre venue is a challenge. Adding a stage and seats is one thing, importing the light and sound equipment is quite another. The lighting was perfectly adequate for the scale of show. The sound design meant we could hear what was being said but the natural acoustics of the gym meant there was no concealing the normal use of the venue. But on the up side, we were able to pick up a free parking spot in the car park as the venue is used to handling large scale events.

Cinderella features local actors, many of whom have appeared in a large number of shows in the region. They understand the audience and know, for example, how the pronounce the local expressions. The local flavour is prominent throughout the show thanks to the production’s writer, director and co-producer Maxie Peters, who also appears as an Ugly Sister Sharon.  His co-Ugly Tracey, Finbar Healy, clearly picked up some comedy tips from his great late father Brendan Healy, who would have been proud to see his son entertaining the people of the North East.

Showing off his usual charm was Jamie Brown as Prince Charming, though this panto also gives him to show off his singing ability too. Both he and Jacob Anderton, as Dandini were able to add glamour and good humour to show.  It was nice to see some strength in character applied to these roles compared to show Cinderella’s we’ve seen over the years. Of course, you want Cinderella to turn from poor maid into the enchanting and magical princess and Emily Swan was able to pull this off whilst making a great onstage partner for the Prince.

Lewis Jobson works hard in the comic role of Buttons. Between firing water pistols and sweets at the audience, he was able to get the kids on side. I’m no fan of Baby Shark but it had the youngsters excited as Lewis left the stage.  Another performer, who showed that they were capable of both very entertaining singing and dancing, Sherrie McKale, has potential to be a good lead in the future. Having said that, a couple of dance routines did little more than pad the show out, making the show one of the longest running times that we’ve encountered this season. Thriller in particular seemed an odd thing to happen in the Ugly Sisters bedroom at the moment it did.

Of the more successful routines, the 12 Days of Christmas was canny and produced a positive reaction from the audience who enjoyed the chaos as it went on.

Many of the jokes are out of the panto archives, which isn’t in itself a problem as many pantos trot out the classic funny lines knowing that they’ll illicit a laugh or a groan from the audience. However, in a very competitive market, I’m not sure this pantomime particularly stands out from the pack. This is a shame considering the effort that goes into staging and performing it.

Review by Stephen Oliver



REVIEW: Jack and the Beanstalk at Darlington Hippodrome

Jack and the Beanstalk
Darlington Hippodrome
Until Sunday 5 January 2020

Darlington's pantomime has a something of a dance theme this year, but it is more than that. The people of Darlington don't have to travel to another town to see a fabulous pantomime this year. Rather the opposite, as Darlo shows the rest how it's done. This isn't a glamorous panto in which the audience are just bystanders. This is one in which they're fully involved. And tonight they loved it...and so did we.

I know, regular readers, I know. That's 6 out of 6 this season but 2019 is turning into one of the best for the quality of panto in our region. Don't worry, if a turkey comes up, we'll call it out.

So what was it about Darlington? It was funny. I mean really funny. With everyone laughing. It was glamorous, with fabulous costumes and set design. The cast seem to get on with each other and the panto format. They created characters that the audience loved. The dancing filled the stage, Jack in particular showing off his talents. Good singing from Princess Apricot and Jack. No insistence that everyone gets a song and pads the show out- just the right number of songs. The babes were adorable, and probably very warm, in their sheep costumes. It was well paced, just the right length and ... it remembered to be funny.

Don't get me wrong, regular readers will know I don't watch much TV and have never seen Strictly Come Dancing for a full episode. But I get that it is popular and it has made dancing popular.  The audience loved the references to the show and that's good. Strictly judge Shirley Ballas appears as Mother Nature and she gets a number of opportunities to show her moves.

Jack and the Beanstalk was also our first "if I was not in pantomime" routine of the year. A lively one at that. We had a great take off scene with the rat too. No messy scene in this panto but the show didn't need it.

Tongue twisters were definitely a feature and comic Phil Walker worked the crowd well. It should be said the script was also family friendly and kept intentional rude jokes limited to a reference to Jack's large chopper when the Beanstalk met its demise. Iain Stuart Robertson’s Dame Trott was also the source of many laughs and costume changes.

Jack (George Sampson) and Princess Apricot (Lauren Hall) seemed a likeable couple (not always the case in pantoland!). Jack was pretty  impressive when busting out his dance moves too.

And we had a Fleshcreep that the audience needed little reminding to boo at.  Experienced Daniel Taylor understands the role and he was able to illicit the correct responses from the willing Darlington audience – for they too have their part to play in making panto work.

So, there you have it. A panto that was well worth our 88 mile round trip. It represented everything we love about the crazy three ringed circus that is good pantomime. It was the first panto not to have a spilt vote in the car this year. Essential watching for anyone wondering why panto is so popular.

ps Dear Darlington Council – any chance of fixing the pelican crossing outside of your premier cultural venue before someone gets hurt?

Review by Stephen Oliver
Photos: Chris Booth

Jack and the Beanstalk runs at Darlington Hippodrome from Friday 6 December 2019 to Sunday 5 January 2020. For full details and to book visit or call 01325 405405.