THE Christmas pantomime is usually a highlight of the season but staff at the Neeld Community and Arts Centre were so disappointed by the quality of its sell-out panto Jack and the Beanstalk that they issued an apology and refunded all 651 tickets sold.

The panto was produced by professional company Oooh Arrr Productions, based in Malmesbury, and ran for three performances in Chippenham between December 27 and 29, with standard tickets costing £7.

The promotion boasted a sparkling set and glittering costumes to bring some festive joy - but joy and sparkle proved to be lacking because after the performances, the Neeld took the unprecedented step of publishing an apology.

"We would like to apologise to all customers who attended the Jack and the Beanstalk pantomime and were disappointed by the quality of the performance. This was not the standard of show the Neeld is used to presenting.

"We had been assured by the theatre production company there would be a cast of six professional actors with industry standard staging.

"The images provided by the company for promotional purposes, which we posted on our social media, did not reflect the show they brought to us."

On the Neeld Facebook page, Natalie Uff commented: "This isn't what the show looked like at all. Such a shame, we were really looking forward to seeing it but left at the interval as it was really bad."

She added: "It was at awful. There were only three people, no scenery, they couldn't sing or dance. At one point they were talking to voices in the wings as they ran out of people."

A review of the performance at Chippenham on Oooh Arrr social media says: "It was pretty terrible! People walked out. My kids were bored and I thankfully found the bar. We must've got the off-season cast! Won't be paying for that ever again."

But response to the Neeld's offer of a refund was positive, with many applauding the arts centre for the refunds.

Chippenham Town Council spokesman Lynsey Nicholls confirmed the show was not a private hire, but a show the Neeld had programmed. She said: "We had a couple of complaints but we were disappointed ourselves. It was not the quality we would want to offer."

The Neeld's statement concluded: "We would like to sincerely apologise again to anyone who was disappointed by the performance. We pride ourselves in providing high quality shows for Chippenham, and we hope to see you at the Neeld again in the future."

A spokesman from Oooh Arrr Productions said: "We are currently investigating this matter and due to legal reasons we are unable to comment further."

Peter Rose, however, commented: "I don’t want a refund - just return my magic beans."