Malcolm Stent’s return with his 23rd consecutive family pantomime in Solihull is a triumph of experience re-energised with the elasticity of youth.
While the dancers trained by regular choreographer Lorraine O’Leary’s literally throw themselves around every inch of the stage, Malc plays the old stager to perfection.
“One finger, one thumb, one arm, one leg...” goes the old song.
It’s so easy to get it wrong that few members of the audience can maintain their rhythm through the next few stages of its development without becoming “discombobulated” as Ken Dodd would have put it.
Not even the bright young things called up for the children’s section late in the second half, a panto tradition at which Malc excels.
He might have peers like Brian Conley, but there are no superiors when it comes to his ability to make even the youngest children on stage feel like they are in their granddads’ living rooms.
Jack and the Beanstalk is one of the most traditional of pantos, updated with references to Jobseekers’ Allowance. The economic crisis facing Dame Trot (a brilliant Andrew Cullum) and son Jack (a remarkably supple Hayley Ann Clarke) is reflected in the announcement that the Arts Complex is relying on volunteers as front of house staff.
But the show must always go on and even after drummer Gary Randall was taken seriously ill five days before opening night, London student Ben Willis provided first class cover.
The energetic cast includes Oliver Hume (Sgt Smaley-Battom), Marcus Fernando (Fleshcreep), Kayleigh Hammond (Molly the Milkmaid), Anna-Julia Grinnell (Princess Apricot), Louise Paris (Fairy Fontana) and Maggie O’Hara (Queen Crumble) and costume designer Faith Saunders has done them all proud this year.
Part two ups the pace, even with the introduction of a zombie storyline.
And the giant? Well, even though he sadly doesn’t go splat, he still has to be seen to be believed on another cracking set created by John Plush and Stuart Bishop.