This year Lyric panto veterans Dan Herd and Steven Webb return to tell the story of Jack, the giant, his mother and the Caroline the cow, in another all-singing, all-dancing, fake snow and innuendo-spattered Christmas family treat. In his programme biography, Herd describes panto as "anarchic Christmassy magic" and that's certainly what the Lyric delivers.
Webb hosts the show, leading the audience interaction with his usual wit, this time as Sprout, Jack's best friend. There is an audible gasp of surprise from the audience when he is joined on stage by a female Jack (Rochelle Rose), which Webb handles with a deft "Surprise! Jack's a girl!". As he asks the audience to help him put on a panto, he primes us for a hugely involving show. Like all good pantos, this latest in the run of excellence at the Lyric both sticks to the conventions and sends them up.
This year's script is by Tom Wells, whose play Jumpers for Goalposts is currently playing at the Bush. It's a good mix of the traditional and the new: there's the pantomime cow, the "he's behind you" and all the usual booing and hissing, but there are also lots of Miley Cyrus references, a One Direction pastiche and a fair bit of twerking. In the middle of a chase scene, when Jack and her friends are fleeing the giant (wonderful set design here – Oliver Townsend's beanstalk is a beefy beauty), the whole cast breaks into the Harlem Shake. True to form, this year's show is a pop culture digest as well as a traditional Christmas treat.
The fourth wall gets a sound battering, too: "Just un-velcro those" instructs Jill, when Jack goes to "unlock" his manacles. When Sprout urges Jack to overcome her fear of heights in order to climb the beanstalk, he tells her: "you can do it Jack, and anyway stage management will give you a safety wire". The script is tight, but it gives an impression of being loose, leaving room for plenty of ad-libbing – often directed over the kids' heads.
If Webb is the star, and Rose is the straight guy (she is a fun but not especially sparky, Jack), Howard Ward as Moreen Dripp is a pleasing dame, flirting with an unfortunate member of the audience with all the subtlety you might expect from Jack's mother. As she enters in the second half, wearing a collage of a homemade dress, she makes eyes at her front row love interest: "It's amazing what you can do in the interval with with a bit of privacy and a prit stick."
Jill (Joshua Tonks), the boy whom Jack falls in love with (in this gender-skewed show), has some good lines too. He is the token toff, son of the villain Fleshcreep (Nigel Richard) who is threatening to sell Jack's mum's cow to feed to the evil giant. He hasn't got many friends around, he says, because they "mainly winter in Tuscany". And when he finally manages to ask Jack out, it's with a "crikey... blush".
Jack and the Beanstalk is the fourth lyric panto to be directed by Dan Herd. Lyric regulars will recognise the "Glory Glory Hammersmith" song from previous years, and the "This is your birthday song, it isn't very long. Hey!" opened, in traditional fashion, by Webb's call for a drum roll – cue drum rolled on from the wings. Like last year, Webb bats sweets into the audience with a tennis racket. Such typically inventive takes on age-old tropes (in this case the standard sweet-throwing) is what the Lyric pantomimes are all about. It's what makes a "Hammersmithmas", as they say.