If I am completely honest, I secretly hoped it would be cancelled.
As I lay awake listening to the gale force winds and torrential rain that had been battering my house, bringing down trees and flooding roads for the past 24 hours, I assumed this would be one time when the show didn’t go on.
An outdoor pantomime sounded lovely when it was autumnal outside but not such an appealing option at 10.15am on a particularly wet, wintery, weather warning Saturday morning before Christmas.
Even the nine-year-old tester wasn’t exactly thrilled at being bundled out the house so early on a chilly, non-school day for a surprise visit to see Jack and the Beanstalk in the Forest of Dean.
But how glad were we that the show did go on? Thanks to the determination of the cast we were treated to a morning of fun and frolics and even the sun put in appearance.
Within minutes of Boris the panto cow arriving to entertain the shivery outdoor queue, he had managed to get the socially distanced, bubbles of adults and children fizzing with excitement.
And by the time we skipped out of the Puzzlewood panto we were all bathed in the kind of warm festive glow that makes you think you can cope with anything life throws at you. Even a pandemic.
“It’s the best panto I’ve ever seen,” said the Floss when needlessly asked if she enjoyed it because it was quite clear from her face that she had loved every minute of it.
“It was really, really good. Really, really fun.”
Jack and the Beanstalk is a Covid-friendly attempt to keep the Christmas tradition alive at the Forest tourist attraction famous for being a filming location for the likes of Star Wars and Doctor Who.
The interactive, walkabout panto doesn’t have the famous celebrity names, lavish costumes or special effects we have come to expect from the big, glittering, theatre productions.
But it does have great stars, good jokes, natural outdoor sets and the kind of intimate and interactive atmosphere that both children and adults respond to.
Covid rules ban mass singalongs and shouting of ‘Behind You!’ so the writers have come up with ingenious ways of interacting with an audience of just 30 people.
From the moment Boris the cow asks the youngsters to come up with a name for their own Covid bubbles, there’s plenty of opportunities for the children to get involved.
When Jack (Hayley Cusick) leads bovine Boris off to market the audience follow behind and the children are asked individually to come up with ideas to raise money.
Walking from scene to scene with Jack’s mum (Helena Devereux) in fields near the entrance means you are never standing around feeling cold or wet and the children enjoyed walking through the enchanted orchard full of lollipops.
There’s even Barnard Castle which contains a mini-maze and a roaring, giant with real size 14 feet (Sam Wright).
Woodland screens keep the different bubbles apart as the children are invited one by one to run up to the sleeping giant’s treasure chest to retrieve some golden coins without waking him up.
Oh the joy of being a primary pupil in pretend peril.
All four members of the cast contribute to the topical humour that appeals to adults as well as kids and Stuart Vincent is the perfect panto dame when he changes from French bean seller to Giant’s wife.
Social distancing was strict but often ingenious. For instance at one point each bubble has to solve a riddle to enter a garden area, naturally creating time and space between the groups.
The story finishes on a high when the children are led back to a orchard and each given clean polystyrene swords so they can take turns in helping Jack kill the giant and cut down the beanstalk.
They join in with gusto.
“Normally only a few kids can go on stage but it was fun because we could all join in,” said panto veteran Floss when asked why she enjoyed it so much.
With that she was ready to pick up a plastic beaker and enter the enchanted Puzzlewood.
Jack in the Beanstalk may be a story about a giant but Puzzlewood’s Covid version proves that small really can be beautiful.
What you need to know:
Tickets are £17 and include both the panto performance and entry into Puzzlewood.
Performance times are 10:15am, 11:30am, 1pm and 2:15pm on the 19th – 23rd and 28th – 30th December.
Tickets are limited to 30 per performance to allow for social distancing and are selling out fast,
The minimum number of tickets that can be purchased is three and the maximum is six.
Audiences are required to wear a face covering.
The show is suitable for ages four to 104.
Warm clothing and wellies are advisable.
Puzzlewood has a ‘Keep Left and Walk On’ system to keep everybody safe.