Arena panto is a giant success!

Jack and the Beanstalk, Alban Arena

Jack and the Beanstalk, Alban Arena - Credit: Archant

The first (and so far only) St Albans newspaper review of this year’s Arena panto!

Jack and the Beanstalk is that familiar story about a boy who wants to be a hero and marry a Princess but an evil baddie, magic beans, a giant beanstalk, and an even bigger giant conspire to get in his way. Will he defeat the giant and get the girl? Oh yes he will!

The Alban Arena production of Jack and the Beanstalk is not the most traditional version you will ever see – the golden eggs and harp are mentioned only in passing – but it is one of the funniest.

Children of all ages will love the show; it is fast-paced, very silly, full of adventure and has plenty of audience participation. Why tip-toe around sleeping giants when you can have fun with giant peas, flying Dames and breakdancing cows?

This year we have one of the strongest casts we have seen at The Arena – every member of the team is great in their role.

Steve McFadden is a revelation as the baddie Fleshcreep, and brings a huge amount of humour to the role. We are more used to seeing Steve on the small screen as Phil Mitchell in Eastenders but he is an effortless theatrical performer, competely in command of every scene on stage.

RADA-trained (as he reminds us a few times), Steve obviously enjoys performing to a live audience and you are in for some surprises (spoiler-alert – he has an unexpected choice of solo song!).

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Fairy Sugarsnap opens the show with sparkle and rhyming couplets and the younger children loved the very smiley Rebecca Keatley from CBeebies’ Lets Play. With plenty of jokes about organic vegetables for the parents of St Albans, Rebecca played her reassuring role perfectly.

We have not one but two RADA-trained actors this year (only the best for St Albans) as Ian Kirkby has been promoted from Baron in last year’s Cinderella to King. Older children will recognise Ian from CBBC’s The Slammer. He is given more to do this year, and is very entertaining to watch.

This is Bob Golding’s first outing as the “bloke in a dress”, playing hero Jack’s mother Dame Trott. Seeing local favourite Bob fly across the stage is worth the ticket price alone and the parents sitting around me were in stitches. Bob is brilliant as the Dame and takes the opportunity to be as rude and cheeky as possible.

Wink Taylor as Jack’s brother Billy plays a confident sidekick to Bob and the slapstick scene in the dairy is great fun – just be warned if you sit in the front row.

Our girls were delighted to see Jemma Carlisle return to St Albans again as Princess Mayflower. Polished and confident, she sings the “popular love duet” with Jack beautifully. Andrew Bryant, fresh from the West End musical Wicked, is ideal as young Jack, racing around the stage with energy and great child-appeal.

We enjoyed the songs from Frozen, Les Miserables and One Direction – a good mix for the audience of all ages. I’m not sure what 1D would make of Daisy the cow’s version of Best Song Ever but it made me laugh and had the 12-year old singing along.

As Bob (sorry, Dame Trott) told us “you don’t get production values like this in Stevenage” and Evolution have produced another dazzling show. Our 8 year-old’s favourite moment was when the beanstalk grew, and it was a wow moment. You will not be disappointed by the giant either – the six-year old child in front of us dived onto her father’s lap as soon as it appeared! But don’t worry if you are bringing young children – the cheerful heroes soon appear to reassure everyone that it will be ok – but the kids won’t forget him in a hurry! Spectacular costumes, professional music and slick, smiling dancers make this a real treat for the whole family. Almost 40,000 people will watch Jack and the Beanstalk at The Arena – and you can see why!