Fabulous fun for all the family, Jack and the Beanstalk at Manchester Opera House is a must-see this Christmas.

‘My first pantomime‘ is often cited by performers as their gateway experience drawing them to a life on stage. Indeed, the simply brilliant Ben Nickless, now in his fifth panto season at Manchester Opera House, tells the story of his first panto – coincidentally Jack and the Beanstalk, at Manchester Opera House, in 1986. It's perfectly reasonable, having seen last night’s show, to imagine that at least one child in the audience is now set on a career in theatre, having witnessed the most joyous, bonkers, hilarious all-inclusive show you could possibly imagine. I mean, who wouldn’t want to do that for a living? Jason Manford, as Jack, might proclaim he’s too old for all this, and that his knees certainly wouldn’t survive a climb of a beanstalk, but you can see the pure joy the cast feel during the show, from the song and dance to the banter to those precious conversations with small children drawn from the audience on stage in the second act. 

Great British Life: Ben Nickless and Jason Manford are the ideal pairing for pantoBen Nickless and Jason Manford are the ideal pairing for panto (Image: c. Crossroads Pantomime)

The pairing of Jason Manford and Ben Nickless was a genius move last year, and loses none of its power this year. Long may it last. Their interactions are without exception the best part of the show, with humour for all ages flowing easily. The slapstick is perfectly timed, the banter flows fast and naturally and there appears to be a genuine connection between the two. This is not a show with a lead and a sidekick, both are equally valuable and necessary, even if one gets to be called Jack. My 17-year-old son only agreed to accompany me on the basis Manford and Nickless were in it – he has no interest in dancing cows, happy villagers and erupting beanstalks, for him it’s all about that pairing. 

READ MORE: Why Jason Manford is happy to be back in panto this Christmas

The rest of the cast don’t disappoint, of course. Myra DuBois, as the Giant’s wife, Myra Blunderbore, is superb. Nobody can carry off sequins and leopard print like Ms. Dubois, and the rest is hardly a stretch for this funny, clever performer. Panto is, of course, a show entirely without the fourth wall, and her audience interactions are brilliant, not least her choice of Gary, a luckily confident father who was happy to leap to his feet and bellow “Leave Myra Blunderbore alone!” on demand. Perhaps the best line of the show , as Myra is prevented from exiting stage left by a large chicken: “Gary, I’ve been cockblocked!” 

Great British Life: Myra DuBois makes the perfect villainous DameMyra DuBois makes the perfect villainous Dame (Image: c. Crossroad Pantomimes)

Samara Casteallo, as the Spirit of the Beans, and Emma Williams, as Princess Jill, the obligatory love interest, bring polished West End style to the show, with voices that soar above the rest. Samara’s opening number sets the scene for a very special performance, quieting even the littlest of audience members. 

The production values for this pantomime are insane. The set is pretty pantomime standard, with beautifully drawn backgrounds for every scene, but the beanstalk, Jack and Simon’s transport to the giant’s lair, and the giant himself are marvels of design and technology that have the audience in awe. I won’t spoil it, but there’s a Harry Potter moment you will love. The costumes are also quite lush, from the many animals that play their roles (how a pantomime sheep can look sad baffles me, but when taken off to market, they look positively bereft) to the pantomime cow (who else wonders who take the back end, and do they get to swap?) to the many outfits of Myra Blunderbore and the entire cast in sparkling green to the closing number. This is the highest of high end pantomimes, and we have it, here in Manchester. 

Great British Life: Brilliant casting and lush production values make for the perfect pantoBrilliant casting and lush production values make for the perfect panto (Image: c. Crossroads Pantomime)

As my son says – you don’t really go to the panto for the storyline, that is simply a vehicle for everything else that comes with it, and at Manchester Opera House’s 2023 pantomime, there is oodles and oodles of everything else. Oh yes there is... 

Jack and the Beanstalk plays at Manchester Opera House until 31 December 2023