It’s panto season! (oh no it isn’t!!)

Gareth Gates and Paul Burling in Aladdin at Milton Keynes Theatre
Gareth Gates and Paul Burling in Aladdin at Milton Keynes Theatre

WITH three television stars, the largest giant to be seen on any pantomime stage and a good pinch of magic, everything is in place for The Grove Theatre pantomime Jack And The Beanstalk.

The adults will recognise the famous faces of former EastEnders Gemma Bissex and Don Gilet but the children will no doubt be more impressed by the appearance of Postman Pat – playing himself of course.

Jack and the Beanstalk - Dunstable panto

Jack and the Beanstalk - Dunstable panto

The seasonal show not only boasts talented actors and a children’s favourite, but also an experienced dame in Rainbow’s Malcolm Lord and a huge moving giant.

Producer Barrie Stead told the LBO: “We’ve got one of the largest giants you will see on any panto stage in the country. As the giant moves to the front of the stage you can see the kids trying to edge back.”

But the giant isn’t the only baddie.

Don Gilet plays the giant’s henchman Fleshcreep and he’s had lots of practice after his role as preacher and murderer Lucas in Albert Square.

He said: “I’ve come to embrace that part of me. It’s a fun thing to do, everybody loves a baddie for some reason. You’ve got to embrace that side of scaring people.

“When I started doing panto, I was the cheeky chappie – it is still in there somewhere!”

Don, who lived in Dunstable for five years before moving away last July, admitted that he had to explain to his young son that the audience were likely to boo him as the evil character.

But he loves the interaction involved in panto.

“I love the immediacy of it,” said Don. “You know it’s going to happen and the audience know it – you’re all in it together.

“There’s not a lot of shows where you are allowed audience participation and we love that. The audience has a role as well.

“It’s always magic. Panto sets the imagination on fire. We are doing it for the children but it is ageless. You all become children that night.”

And Gemma Bissex – who plays Princess Tamara – is also a fan of festive fun. She said: “I love children, I love Christmas and I love the family atmosphere of pantomime.

“You should always bring a child to panto because it brings a different magic to the show.”

Gemma has played the princess before when she was 17 but is more well-known for portraying mean characters these days. Only as Cinderella in pantomime last year did she start to make the transition from bad to good.

She joked: “It was a bit of a difficult ask being a nice character, but at least Cinderella had a bit of gusto. I’m a bit of a tomboy and I have to be ladylike as the princess.”

Jack And The Beanstalk opens at the Court Drive venue on December 9. And, after problems in previous years with heavy snow during the run, the Grove has arranged earlier show times to allow for severe weather.

Barrie said: “In view of the two years of heavy snow – we can work magic but that’s beyond us – we’ve got rid of some of the later 7pm shows and moved them to 5pm so people can get home easier before the roads freeze up.”

And it promises to be worth the trip.

“You need spectacle and that is what we’re going to give you,” said Barrie.

Tickets for Jack And The Beanstalk are on sale now. Call the box office on 01582 602080 or go online www.grovetheatre.co.uk or drop into the venue box office during daytimes.

Other pantos and family shows on this Christmas are: Milton Keynes Theatre: The genie-ious behind this year’s show, Aladdin, has waltzed off with a trio of Strictly Come Dancing celebs to star alongside singer Gareth Gates.

Russell Grant, Anita Dobson and Camilla Dallerup will be making special appearances as the magical Genie of the lamp. Running from Dec 9-Jan 15. For tickets cal the box office 0844 8717652 or visit www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes.

The Stables: This year’s family Christmas production is The Amazing Adventures of Pinocchio, which runs at The Stables from December 20 to January 7.

The award-winning theatre company, Strangeface, who performed last year’s astounding Christmas Carol at the venue, brings an extraordinary mix of masks, puppetry, live music and song to this tale of wild mischief and temptation. In a style closer to Roald Dahl than Disney, Pinocchio takes you on a fantastical journey from the puppet’s first moments as a talking log, through a madcap series of scrapes and escapades with the scheming rascals Fox and Cat, magical fairies and a host of other mysterious characters on a voyage through strange faraway places.

In turns thrilling and heartwarming, moving and comical. Strangeface bring their inimitable magic to this masterpiece of surreal fantasy.

The performance is suitable for age 5+ and includes the company’s ever-popular “backstage tour”, a chance to take a close-up look at the puppets, set and instruments and meet the performers after the show. For tickets and times call the box office 01908 280800 or book online www.stables.org

To find out more about Strangeface go to http://www.stables.org/Information/Pinocchio to see Mark and Russell from the award-winning theatre company in conversation with Stables boss Monica Ferguson.

Royal & Derngate, Northampton: Two shows as usual. Entertainer Bobby Davro and children’s favourite, Basil Brush,lead Aladdin on The Derngate stage from Dec 9-Jan 8 while a more traditional family show, Alice In Wonderland, is down the rabbit hole on the Royal stage from Nov 30 to Jan 8. For tickets call the box office 01604 624811 or online www.royalandderngate.co.uk

Watford Palace Theatre: Jack and the Beanstalk, running from Nov 25 to Dec 31. Box office 01923 225671.

Alban Arena, St Albans: Toyah Wilcox is the evil queen in Snow White (with CBeebies Phil Callagher), running from

Dec 9 to Jan 1. Box office 01727 844488.

Court Theatre Tring: Cinderella, from Dec 30 to Jan 8. Box office 07543 560478.

Stantonbury Campus: The Little Mermaid, from Dec 21 to Jan 2. Box office 01908 32442.