AMAZING SHOW: The cast of Jack and the Beanstalk, which continues into the new year at Darlington Hippodrome
AMAZING SHOW: The cast of Jack and the Beanstalk, which continues into the new year at Darlington Hippodrome

FORGET the official reviewers and theatre devotees who went to see Jack and the Beanstalk at Darlington’s Hippodrome on “press night”, the true critics were the kids.

Luckily, I had two with me who were honest as the day is long – as only a six and nine-year-old can be.

Jack and the Beanstalk starred Shirley Ballas, the head judge of TV show Strictly Come Dancing. But like other big names who have appeared in pantos for time immemorial, her appearance was, of course, to attract the adults. My children hadn’t the foggiest (more of that later) who she was. They just wanted to be entertained and amused.

And royally entertained they were as Shirley and co went about adding a big dollop of Strictly to a classic fairytale.

If last year’s memorable production of Aladdin was our family’s own benchmark, this year’s show at the Hippodrome smashed through it.

It had stunning dance scenes, songs, characters the audience could really warm to and more LOLs than a Facebook chat.

But my two critics were hard to please.

“I’m only here for Rosie,” our football-mad eldest announced as we took our seat, pointing at her sister.

“I just don’t understand what this movie is all about,” his sister complained after a few scenes. It took her a while to fathom that the production wasn’t like the fairytale she knew and she should just enjoy the ride.

Her brother had lost his “I’m too old for pantomimes” attitude long before and was chuckling away like the rest of us. Shirley Ballas got to strut her stuff superbly as Mother Nature. Jack Trot was played by Britain's Got Talent winner George Sampson, who more than lived up to his billing, and villain Fleshcreep was brilliantly portrayed by comedy writer Daniel Taylor.

But it was Phil Walker as Simple Simon who stole the show. Every panto needs a fall guy and he took that roll with gusto, seemingly enjoying it all as much as we did.

As ever there was enough humour aimed at the adults, as well as dancing girls, special effects and a big, bold and colourful stage design. Someone overdid the stage fog at one point and Shirley went missing for a while.

But my two critics left the theatre still giggling and recalling the scenes between each other. The classic “if I was not in a pantomime” act was a favourite.

Jack and the Beanstalk was met with unequivocal critical acclaim.

Trevor Brookes