Review: Jack and the Beanstalk, Gala Theatre, Durham, until January 7.

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CHRISTMAS wouldn’t be Christmas without a trip to the panto.

I had high expectations for my trip to Durham’s Gala theatre, having heard friends’ praise for previous festive shows.

Jack and the Beanstalk is this year’s offering and I’m delighted to say it more than surpassed my already “giant” hopes (sorry).

This hilarious, hundred-miles-an-hour show is fantastic family entertainment, jam-packed with songs, jokes, slapstick and audience participation.

The charming cast can’t fail to win the audience over – Gala panto veterans Paul Hartley (Jack) and CBeebies TV star Jane Deane (Jill) had everyone chuckling their way through the show, as did the hilarious Donald McBride as their mum, Dame Shrivell.

Brian Blessed was perfect to provide the booming voice of the giant.

But it was Seaham-born Neil Armstrong as villainous henchman Fleshcreep who stole the show, striking up a great rapport with the audience and showing off his comedic ad-libbing skills with aplomb.

There was no lull in the entertainment in this wonderful, fun-filled panto, which kept the audience – ranging from toddlers to pensioners – spellbound.

And while it has all the ingredients of a good-old fashioned, all-singing, all-dancing traditional panto, the show really is a cut above.

Through the twists and turns, the audience is always part of the action – and it was great to see the talented cast having just as much fun.

I now know why the Gala’s pantomimes have won such praise after seeing this entertaining, laugh-a-minute show.

If you’re looking for fabulous family fun this Christmas, go along to the Gala.