• Jack and the Giant
  • The Theatre, Chipping Norton
  • Until Jan 12
  • Tickets: 01608 642350

Times are hard in King Bertram’s kingdom. “We’ve never known such poverty, we might as well be Greek,” his resentful subjects grumble.

The problem is that the Giant has imposed a punitive Giant Tax, the King explains with a vacuous smile.

Now that tax is to be doubled.

Alas, the King is lying through his teeth: there is no Giant Tax, all the money is being shovelled into the King’s own coffers — although what he spends it on isn’t clear, as he has no Queen, and his modest and charming daughter doesn’t appear to frequent expensive shops.

Thus runs the storyline in this year’s Chippy Panto, Jack and the Giant. Although writer Ben Crocker has embellished the standard Jack and the Beanstalk, you’ll be relieved to know that Dame Trott still ends up triumphant, and there’s still a beanstalk. Up above, the Giant (Rowan Talbot, a Chippy regular) has acquired a wife (Emma Odell). She obviously can’t be doing with too much ranting and roaring, and has quietened the Giant down considerably. In fact he’s a rather charming, if none too intellectual, old gentleman. His joints have become rather arthritic, but he still loves to dance the Conga — indeed, in one of the show’s best routines, if the whole audience dances the Conga well enough, he will agree to release all his human prisoners unharmed. The entrance to his lair is protected by four small but splendidly fearsome young dragons (Ellie-May Hatherly, Maddie Good, Jacob Robinson, and Hannah Burman), ruled over by a tough sergeant (Natasha Moore).

J J Henry is making his debut as a panto dame, and drew a good “ahhh” of sympathy as he delivered Dame Trott’s immortal first line, “I’m just a poor widow woman”. His Dame is quite a restrained character, but delivers a delicious range of facial expressions, varying from the baffled to the outraged. Strong in support are Rachel Dawson as sparky Jack, Max Gallagher as Simple Simon, and Jessica Dyas as warm and friendly Princess Beatrice. As for King Bertram (Richard Emerson), his smile becomes positively sickening as he proceeds to defraud his subjects. All deliver Ollie Birch’s bouncy songs with glee.

King Bertram’s austerity measures seem to have hit the show itself in one respect: the sets are a bit basic, and don’t radiate quite the level of magic atmosphere delivered in past years.