When it comes to entertaining kids at Christmas, you can’t just serve up any old tat and expect them to like it. As the old theatre adage goes, they’re the toughest of audiences.

But children of all ages will be lapping up the traditional fare on offer at Northampton’s Derngate in the shape of Jack and the Beanstalk.

It may not have the glitz and glamour of some of its competitors, but there’s a sincerity and charm at the heart of this show that proves infectious and warming on a cold Christmas night.

It’s all good stuff, from the twinkle and youthful vitality of leading man Ray Quinn to the villainous braggadocio of Gavin Woods’s swaggering Fleshcreep. The Princess (Emma Stephens) is delightful and pretty, Adam Stafford’s Dame Trot is pitched with just the right amount of fruitiness and fun, and Daisy the Cow provides a star turn of truly bovine proportions.

But the real show-stealer comes in the form of Hilary O’Neil’s Fairy Cobblers, whose immense range of impressions and vocal gymnastics makes her every appearance a joy to be savoured. Why she has not become a household name is beyond me.

I have the usual quibbles with a pantomime that steadfastly refuses to feature live music without announcing it clearly in its publicity, and producers Qdos Entertainment must shoulder the opprobrium for this shameful state of affairs, which short-changes the audience of a whole added dimension for what can only be reasons of Scrooge-like miserliness.

But that grumble aside, there’s precious little else in this lively extravaganza to make a critic exclaim: “Bah! Humbug!”

MICHAEL DAVIES