Welcome to “Amazingstoke”, the fictional village that is the setting for this year’s Basingstoke pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk at The Anvil, written by Andrew Ryan.
The foyer was buzzing with the audience eagerly anticipating this year’s family-friendly show that overflowed with seasonal warmth.
This production has all the ingredients for the perfect pantomime with colourful sets, inventive lighting, gorgeous costumes and oodles of audience participation.
There are plenty of local references and some frightfully funny one-liners, together with some traditional scenes including the ghost sketch and a simple slosh routine about Italian ice cream that the youngsters loved.
Mark Little, known for playing Joe Mangel in Neighbours, plays the evil Fleshcreep and relished the loud boos from the audience or, as he put it: “I’m only here for the booze.”
The adults enjoyed that pun as well as his references to Donald Trump.
Forest Fairy (Melanie Walters) has a problem. Since we are now living in times of austerity she’s doing the job of three fairy godmothers and continually gets the characters’ names mixed up from other pantomimes, all good fun.
The energetic affable Chris Pizzey from CBBC’s The Basil Brush Show is the streetwise cool Simple Simon who quickly establishes a good-natured rapport with the audience with his catch phrase, “I say simple you say Simon.”
His magic trick at the start is hilarious and won the audience over.
Making his southern debut Philip Meeks is the perfect Dame Tessie Trott with plenty of audience banter and wearing a more outlandish frock at each appearance in what is an excellent panto performance.
The love interest comes from our dashing hero Jack – the splendid Mark Rhodes – who has great stage presence, and Chloe Amber as Princess Jill. Both have good singing voices.
But the land is thwarted by the Giant who is putting up the taxes and everyone is now forced to live in poverty.
The Trott family are forced to sell their lovable cow Daisy, who won the hearts of the youngsters and the bumbling King (Michael Chance) even loses his throne as well as his daughter who is captured by Fleshcreep, but will Jack be able to rescue her?
Of course there is a beanstalk that magically grows before our eyes and a huge giant who eventually meets an ugly end as Jack battles it out with Fleshcreep in the final fight scene.
There is excellent support from a talented ensemble together with the juveniles from Basingstoke Academy of Dance and the North Hampshire Academy of Dance with slick choreography by Sarah Louise Day.
With a lively musical score under the direction of Martyn Cooper this certainly is the ideal start to the Christmas festivities. Oh yes it is!