Jack And The Beanstalk, York Theatre Royal, until February 3. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

MARTIN Barrass was almost too emotional to say his first line in Jack And The Beanstalk on press night as the front row held up cards saying Welcome Back Martin.

Barrass had come back from the dead, you will recall, not once but twice, after his motorbike crash in September 2016, but here he was back skipping and hopping and being subjected to all manner of costume abuse (the garden gnome with the legs slung above the shoulder a particular favourite), as the perennial comic stooge reunited with the dowager dame after his enforced gap year.

"Death-defying" Dame Berwick Kaler has had his own front-page health scares, first a life-threateningheart blockage last year, then a double heart bypass in July, and the pair made their entry together amid high emotion last Friday.

A running gag played out through the show as they compared sore ribs – Barrass's daft lad should be used to taking a ribbing from his dame mam by now– and the first of two of two fantastic film scenes finished with a tribute to the work of the Yorkshire Air Ambulance that saved Martin.

Kaler has returned to the pantomime frontline for his 39th show rather sooner than a full six-month recovery would ideally permit, but sensibly he has been rehearsing half days and he restricts his infamous slapstick scene to orchestrating clown Barrass's slippery gunge humiliation and a couple of swings on a ladder.

Kaler's Mandy Manley performs bursts of songs too rather than full-on solo turns, another pragmatic step that leaves him to give fullest focus to overseeing the comic mayhem, the banter, the audience interaction – and coming up with gags as good as the one involving Moses (wait and see!).

What's more, and crucially, he writes so well for his fellow regulars, not only the bounce-back Barrass's Stanley Manley, but David Leonard's stupendous villain, Dr McCarb, whose duet of The Troggs' Wild Thing with principal golden-girl Suzy Cooper's Jill, in her darker Princess Leia guise, is poptastic.

Ah, Princess Leia. The arrival of the new Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, has given Dame Berwick his topical reference point for this panto, with the young people's team as Ewoks and a Super Troopers' opening number to Act Two, The La La Song, where the costume design by Mark Walters appears to channel both Star Wars and ABBA.

Walters' sets and costumes – Kaler dressed as a green house, for example – are surely the best in northern pantoland, at once traditional and elegant but playful too, and truly magical in one scene where the set opens out like a doll's house to reveal the interior of the dame's home in Ebargum. Walters then pulls out all the stops with choreographed scenery changes as AJ Powell's principal boy, Jack Manley, climbs the beanstalk.

All the dance ensemble have their moments, Jake Lindsay's script-reading Lord Mayor going down especially well; Grace Harrington's choreography has bags of energy and flair, peaking with When You're An Addams; Elliot Styche's musical direction can adapt to all manner of songs. Everything is slickly co-ordinated by Damian Cruden's direction.

What's new this year? Selby actor Luke Adamson plays Useless Eustace as a quizzical cross between Blackadder's Baldrick and a Shakespearean fool, bonding fruitfully with Leonard's increasingly irascible villain.

What's old this year? Dame Berwick is 71 and has talked of his 40th show next winter potentially being his farewell. Should he announce The Grand Old Dame Of York as next year's title on the Beanstalk's last night, then the end is nigh, but if he feels full of beans after 70 performances, there could yet be longer life in this old bean.