BERWICK Kaler freely admits everyone else's favourite pantomime, Cinderella, is anything but his favourite. Something to do with the dame's role being split into two Ugly Sisters. Add the absence of a recuperating Martin Barrass, a new design for the Theatre Royal's main house, his own heart scare, and last winter's Cinders was not a show he cherishes in the memory bank.

A year on, Jack And The Beanstalk finds him full of...beans, voice strong, mischief in his eyes and on his tongue, heart bypass tickety boo, and sidekick comic stooge Barrass back by his side for the usual ritual humiliation as they compare notes on their war wounds.

Jack And The Beanstalk was already in good shape on press night – a bonkers, genetically modified, surrealist plot and witty script full of verbal jousts; ace ensemble choreography by Grace Harrington; Star Wars meets ABBA send-ups; a giant contribution on screen from Big Harry Gration; a fabulous set and costume designs by Mark Walters – and it is even better now.

Kaler has so much on his plate at 71– script, co-directing, playing dame Mandy Manley, seeing how everything is working, both on stage and in his body post-surgery – that his own performance is the ingredient that has come on leaps and bounds as the run has progressed.

Watching the show for a second time, on this occasion from the seventh row of the stalls, it is fascinating to watch Kaler at work close up, keeping all around him on their toes with his interjections, eyes like antennae spotting the comic opportunity, especially at the expense of Barrass and A J Powell's Jack Manley.

What's more, around him so many performances bloom, not only Barrass's latter-day Stan Laurel and Powell's perky Brummie, but the villain supreme David Leonard in outrageously good form as Dr McCarb, joined by Suzy Cooper in Princess Leia mode for a terrific rendition of Wild Thing; son of Selby Luke Adamson's ever-questioning, Baldrick-style Useless Eustace and Jake Lindsay's cameo as a nice but dim, script-reading Lord Mayor.

On the evidence of a show so full of life that the beans explode, any talk of Kaler jacking it all in after next winter's 40th anniversary show should be put to bed. His script writing, his gift for comic surprise, his passion for pantomime, are undimmed and while the physical slapstick may have less slap these dowager days, his dame is definitely not in her dotage.

Jack And The Beanstalk, York Theatre Royal, until February 3. Box office: 01904 623568