Jack and the Beanstalk, Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton - review with pictures
The annual glitter fest that is The Grand's Christmas panto is back with more pizazz than a foaming fountain of prosecco.
You know you're in pantoland when a couple of soap stars and a former talent show finalist share the stage with a man in drag and two people dressed as a cow. And in this case, there's nowhere else you would rather be.
Graham Cole, who played Pc Tony Stamp in The Bill, is first to appear, setting a high standard as evil landlord Fleshcreep, stalking the stage menacingly in a leather trench coat and positively revelling in villainy.
Lisa Riley as Mother Nature, the good fairy of the tale, is a beaming bundle of energy and the beating heart of this production, injecting the show with much of its sparkle, while Ian Adams shows there is nothing like a dame when he is the one wearing the big wig and bling-tastic costumes.
Gareth Gates, forever known as the runner-up to Will Young in the UK's first Pop Idol TV talent contest, is endearing in the role of Jack. A gentle soul, and serially bashful, he is at his strongest serenading Sarah Vaughan, impressive as Jack's sweetheart Jill, although comically unconvincing as a giant slayer.
Every panto needs a warm-up man, the professional comedian who gets the audience laughing, singing and shouting the age-old responses 'He's behind you, oh yes he is' and so on. Adam C Booth, as Simple Simon, effortlessly has the auditorium in fits of delight and firmly on his side whenever he is on stage.
The pinched features and flat delivery of our own dear Doreen Tipton, appearing here in a medieval hoodie, are in stark contrast to the over-the-top exuberance that is your typical panto, which makes her performance even funnier than usual. She has to be a Grand panto fixture surely?
This panto is high energy and infectiously good fun. Among the comedy highlights is a version The 12 Days of Christmas, featuring four neck braces and a necklace of toilet rolls, and the Bryan Adams ballad Everything I Do sung by Gates and Vaughan with beautifully timed interruptions from Booth.
The script is strong and includes a constant stream of local references, some crowbarred into a song containing such unlikely rhymes as: "It's so cosy in Moseley, foxy in Oxley and so good in Tettenhall Wood."
The final shout-out goes to the talented young performers from the Willenhall-based Classic Academy of Dance who easily held their own on stage and gave the show its 'Aww' factor, especially when they came out dressed as sheep.
This is one to make panto fans of all ages glow. Runs until January 14.