Jack And The Beanstalk – York Theatre Royal

WHAT a joy it was to be reunited as one of Berwick Kaler’s babies and bairns for York Theatre Royal’s panto production of Jack And The Beanstalk.

Having missed the previous four instalments of the annual mirth-making madness following the birth of our own baby, it felt like a homecoming.

We were back with the family for the festive fun and frolics, with the next generation also in tow for her induction into the wonderful world of make-believe.

It also coincided with the more-than-welcome return to the stage of stalwart sidekick Martin Barrass, whose run of 30-odd years as Kaler’s panto ‘son’ was brought to an abrupt halt in 2016 by a serious motorbike accident that almost cost him his life.

Thankfully, he was back to his bouncy best, cavorting around the stage like the chirpy child he always portrays.

He joined other long-time panto stars, including the villainous David Leonard and the ever-youthful Suzy Cooper, for yet another slapstick sensation that had an appreciative audience rocking with laughter. At least that’s what I assumed the tears were for!

Never straying far from the winning formulae that has brought the team plenty of plaudits over the years, the regular festive fare of silliness and satire was served up, set against the backdrop of some stunning set designs and super-slick dance routines.

Everyone’s favourite Brummie, AJ Powell, and Yorkshire-born Luke Adamson, as the squeaky-voiced Useless Eustace, also registered highly commendable performances, and everyone cheered to see the ‘toast of the nation’, Harry Gration, making his regular cameo role on the film clip.

But, dare I say it, something felt a little flat this year. And I’m not just talking about Barrass’ bike!

Like all family reunions, the same old conversations start to wear a little thin after a while. Both Berwick and Barrass were, I felt, somewhat muted in their roles compared to previous years, and I just can’t help feeling with Kaler on the brink of celebrating 40 years as the venue’s debonair dame, he could be about to lower the curtain on an illustrious comedy career.

The worry for his legions of devotees is who could ever hope to fill his sizeable clown-like shoes, as I just can’t see anyone rising from the current ranks to the heady heights he has achieved over the years, with or without the help of some magic beans. I sincerely hope I’m proved wrong, and they are still wheeling him out on stage in ever-yet-more gaudy gear for many years to come. But it also wouldn’t be a surprise if it proved to be true.

So, the only thing I can suggest is you snap up a ticket fast for this year’s show, if there are any left, for the chance to see a master merrymaker in action. The Kaler/Barrass combination is the stuff of legends, the likes of which we may never see again. Oh, yes it is ...

Jack And The Beanstalk runs until February 3.

Visit yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or call the box office on 01904 623568 for tickets.