The autumn half-term week in Prudhoe is famous for its Dragon Tale Theatre Group annual pantomime and this year has been no exception, as the company presented Jack and the Beanstalk at Prudhoe Highfield Middle School from October 31 to November 3.

Based on the traditional story of magic beans and a killer giant, the script consisted of all the usual pantomime calls of it’s-behind-you and oh-no-it-isn’t, jokey puns and all the rest but I thought this was a particularly funny and entertaining script this year. I actually saw the panto more than once and can attest to it not having palled upon repetition.

Of the principals, it would be difficult to single out one performer, as all the performances were very strong. But, to give some personal credits, Vicki Wilkin (in real life one of the nicest people whom anyone could wish to meet) personified pure evil to perfection in the role of Flesh Creep. The name of the character says it all and this excellent performance was truly scary. Charlie Downing and Wendy Neal then skilfully brought some calm and order to the proceedings as Fairy Beansprout and Fairy Cabbaagepatch. Ben Orrock as Dozy Den brought tremendous energy to his role and cleverly interacted with the audience all the way through. It was a very special moment when Dozy Dan was reunited with his long-lost mother, beautifully played by Tahnya Tulip-Maughan.

Following the usual tradition of pantomime, hero Jack was played by a young lady and Dame Trott by a man. Sammii Macbeth showed both the naivete and ultimate heroism of Jack in a very well thought out performance that will remain in the memory. Alex Neal was making his cross-dressing debut as a memorable Dame. His intensified Geordie accent was well sustained and there was just the right touch of flirtiness amongst the usual Dame-like shouting. And I spared a thought for Ian Downing, who played Buttercup the Cow in what I’m sure was a very warm whole-body costume and made the very most of the comedy of his non-speaking part.

Turning to the portrayal of the Royals, Ray Moore made a very convincing King, who displayed the essentials needed to cover both regality and an underlying kindness. Abi Neal as Queen very much looked at her ease and successfully brought out a certain haughtiness where this was called for. In the best tradition of panto, Jack ultimately gets to marry Princess Rose; Fiona Henderson was a delightful princess, who both sounded and looked the part. Meanwhile, Neil Wilkin, who has in the past excited audiences with his depiction of evil, made a wonderfully camp and comic Prime Minister. It was a clever idea, too, to give some of the young people taking part some cameo walk-on roles as various royal officials, a task which all of them took on with enthusiasm. It was also spot-on to exaggerate the wicked voice of the giant offstage, whilst portraying him as a sleepy young boy.

Sadly I can’t mention everyone in the cast who put in such brilliant performances but all deserve high praise. In particular, it was good to see that all the cast remembered to act all the time that they were onstage, even where the script gave them nothing in particular to do. The very high standard of singing and dancing by all onstage presented clear evidence of some very hard work indeed in rehearsal.

Supporting the cast was a fine band of musicians, led by Doug Younger, which proved capable of playing anything from a few bars of Mozart to Oh, What a Beauty.

Of course a production on this scale requires many members not seen on stage. Jobs that also need to be done include the technical side (sound, lighting etc), Front of House, Makeup, Wardrobe, Set Design, Scenery/Props, setting the stage up and down, selling tickets, providing transport as necessary, catering, use of social media, design/production, photography, videography, together with items needed to comply with the law, such as registration and chaperoning. The fact that the event flowed so seamlessly is a strong reminder of how this company works so very effectively as a team.

Producer Stu Rutherford will have every reason to be thoroughly proud of such a high quality production and the fact that the shows were not far from being a sell-out and that so many audience members come back faithfully year after year bears witness to the place which this company’s work holds in Prudhoe’s calendar. With apologies to anyone whom I haven’t had enough space to name, I look forward eagerly to its return at next autumn’s production of Rapunzel.

By Lucy Pye