Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 9th December, 2014
The Grand’s pantomime this year is the classic Cinderella and I have to say it’s perfect.
Julian Clary heads the cast, so to speak, not in the title role but as the Prince’s right hand man, Dandini in a series of evermore elaborate outfits. Clary’s act is a good fit for panto: the relentless innuendo (he slips one in every other minute, they come thick and fast, etc…) and the mocking of the grown-ups in the audience – these have been panto staples for centuries.
But here’s what’s magic about this production: no single element or personality is allowed to dominate. This is not merely a vehicle for Clary to sell his hilarious wares. Everything blends to create a perfect piece of entertainment – I’ve used the P word twice now and will do again before this review is over.
There is spectacle and special effects, singing and dancing and slapstick – everything you’d expect, and it all works in concert to dazzling and highly entertaining effect.
Niki Evans, flying in on a crescent moon, as the Fairy Godmother is clearly in her element. She is afforded opportunities to show off her belter of a pop-star voice and practically twinkles with panto charm. Her native Black Country accent adds comedy and bathos to some of her more outlandish declamations. Absolutely delightful.
Joe Tracini (latterly ‘Dennis’ off of Hollyoaks) is an irrepressible and lovable Buttons, demonstrating an impressive range of skills from slapstick to magic tricks to singing… The man is a great ball of showbiz and thoroughly endearing. His knockabout japes are the perfect (there I go again) foil for Clary’s sniper-like sarcasm and double entendres.
Ben Stock and Tony Jackson are the Ugly Sisters – a wickedly funny, bitchy pair of drag queens and – here’s the test of the Ugly Sisters – they play the invitation-tearing scene with exquisite evil. Their bullying elicits genuine gasps from the kiddies in the audience, and is all the more effective thanks to a charming and vivacious portrayal of Cinderella herself by Alice Barker.
Speaking of Charming, Will Richardson is the dashing Prince. For the most part he’s the ‘straight man’ to Julian Clary, but when we get to the ballroom scene, his duet with Alice Barker is lovely. Director Andrew Lynford knows when to turn on the romance – indeed, he gives all aspects of the story and all the ingredients of pantomime time to come to the fore when necessary. (Have I mentioned yet that this show is perfect?)
Iain Stuart Robertson is an affable Baron Hardup, and Ian Gledhill’s Lord Chamberlain shows what can be achieved by a strong character actor in a minor role. With a chorus of dancers, a troupe of babes and a small but hardworking band (under the musical direction of David Lane), energy fills the auditorium. I had such a good time.
In all honesty, I can’t fault the production. If you’re looking for traditional fare for your seasonal entertainment , you won’t go wrong with this one.