Fe Fi Fo Fum, I smell a winning pantomime run. The Opera House team knows we could all do with more fun and laughter this Christmas, and Crossroads Pantomimes has delivered the perfect gift.
Jason Manford opens the show as hero Jack with the type of warm and hilarious stand-up routine that first catapulted him to fame. Since starting out on Manchester’s comedy scene Manford has become a household name as a TV and radio presenter and in recent years a musical star (he is back in Manchester as the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz in April).
In many ways pantomime is the perfect vehicle for an all-round entertainer like Manford, and the music choices with many recognisable songs from the big musicals make the most of his terrific voice.
Manford is such a tough act to follow, that you almost feel sorry for Ben Nickless next onto the stage as Jack’s brother, Silly Simon. But of course, there is no need. After five Christmases on the Opera House stage the Rochdale comic and impressionist knows exactly how to win a panto audience, and the kids love him. He has an infectious playful energy and in no time the audience is shouting back at the top of their lungs.
Jack and Simon live in the Royal Kingdom of Mancunia, and Nickless sets the scene perfectly with a tongue-twisting, memory busting song that sees him reel off area after area of Greater Manchester with lightning speed mentions.
Later there is another terrific tongue-twisting scene with Manford, Nickless and pantomime villain, Myra DuBois. DuBois, like Nickless, became well-known through Britain’s Got Talent. As Myra Blunderbore the Giant’s wife she is anything but boring and her sharp-tongued wit makes for some memorable audience interaction.
Samara Casteallo makes a welcome return as the sparkling Spirit of the Beans after playing Tink in last year’s Peter Pan with Manford and Nickless at the venue. They are joined, this year by West End actor, Emma Williams as Princess Jill. As you would expect from Manford and Williams the singing in this show is like watching a top musical. Having seen Williams on stage before, I can’t help feeling her talent is underused here. But there is only so much you can get into two hours 20 minutes and there is never a dip in this slick, fast-paced family show.
As audiences have come to expect from the city’s biggest pantomime, Ian Westbrook’s set design delivers spectacular effects including dancing animals, a massive growing beanstalk, a stage-filling giant, and a flying car.
If you’re looking for family-friendly escapism to have you laughing all the way home, this giant of a pantomime is sure to get your Christmas off to a magical start.
Jack and the Beanstalk is at the Opera House, Manchester from 2-31 December 2023.