Despite being mistaken for Ross Kemp on many occasions throughout the show, EastEnders’ star Steve McFadden, alias Phil Mitchell, was obviously relishing being an even more over-the-top baddy than usual in this year’s fantastic pantomime, writes Ruth Brindle.

As the leather-clad character Fleshcreep, the giant’s henchman, he put his incredibly gravelly, cockney voice to good use, spurred on by the packed audience’s boos and hisses.

In fact, audience participation couldn’t have been more enthusiastic on the night for a complete wow of a show that was fast-paced and sparkling with very clever touches and hilariously humorous moments that touched the funny bone of all ages.

I particularly enjoyed the complex and well put together scene between Dame Trott and son Billy (Wink Taylor) using old vinyl record covers, with remarks “The only way is David Essex”. That was one for the ‘oldies’, but the Arena’s roof could have been blown off when the large contingent of pupils from St Albans School for Girls sang their hearts out to David Guetta’s Bulletproof. Their screams and enthusiasm throughout added to the family party atmosphere.

It was obvious that many of the audience members come back again and again to the Alban Arena panto, produced for the past five years by husband and wife team Emily Wood and Paul Hendy. As Evolution Productions they put on simultaneous pantomimes all around the country. They know how to stage a good show with all the right touches, whether it was throwing giant ‘peas’ at the baddies on stage, warning of imminent zombie danger, or joining in the songs.

While much of the comedy content was driven along by the fantastic Bob Golding as Dame Trott, an Olivier Award nominee and a regular on the Arena pantomime stage, none of the cast members disappointed. No doubt all the little girls in the audience wanted to be Princess Mayflower, played prettily by Jemma Carlisle.

I enjoyed her duets with hero Jack Trott, played by Andrew Bryant. Ian Kirkby gave his King Eric a rather Kenneth Williams-like flourish, often hilarious and Fairy Sugarsnap, played by CBeebies’ Rebecca Keatley brought that all-important touch of magic. The group of villagers also put a professional polish on the proceedings.

Special mention must be given to director Matthew Daines and also Helga Wood, for set and costume design. But we can’t forget the biggest character of all – the giant, whose booming voice sent quivers around the hall. Top marks for costume construction goes to Mike Coltman. The giant’s first appearance through the massive doors of his castle was truly awe-inspiring – much like the show itself. I’m booking now for Peter Pan next year!

Alban Arena, Civic Centre, St Albans, until January 5. Details: 01727 844488,