Star rating: ****
Mitchell Arts Centre is playing host to a two week run of the popular fairy tale classic, Cinderella, this Christmas and it’s as traditional a pantomime as you can get – with a very current and highly comedic script thrown in for good measure.
Pantomimes around the country appear to be adapting their stories to make the principal females feistier and Tim Churchill and Paul Wood’s version is no exception. There are nods to well known television shows such as Gogglebox and Jeremy Kyle as well as a brand new take on the age-old pantomime comedy song ‘If I was Not a…’.
With a simple yet highly effective set providing an elegant and practical backdrop for the action-packed show, we were treated to a good dose of musical numbers which included the hit of the year from ‘The Greatest Showman‘ – ‘This Is Me’, ‘Make Your Own Kind of Music’ by Paloma Faith and naturally we had to join in with ‘Baby Shark‘, the gimmick tune of the season. The strong cast interacted brilliantly with the audience, offered opportunities for the crowd to participate and kept a remarkable level of energy going given their numerous two show days and the fact they’ve had one day off to enjoy Christmas before getting back to it!
Cathy O’Reilly made the perfect Fairy Godmother, not only did she look the part, there was a twinkle in her eye and her vocal ability, which we’d not previously heard – simply stunning! She’s a joy to hear. Tim Churchill, who not only co-wrote the show but also directed it, is well known to us as Mr Lyons and other characters in the Blood Brothers tour. As an Ugly Sister he positively shone and was every inch the pantomime dame as he carped, sneered and appeared to enjoy every minute. He was joined by Paul Deakin as his sister and together they were a menace and hilarious in equal measure. Their names were apt too, Theresa and May! Amy-Jane Ollies is another face who’s become familiar to us as part of the Blood Brothers ‘family’ and in the title role of Cinderella, she was every inch the rags to riches girl. Her comic timing was particularly notable and naturally her sensational singing voice lent itself to the role, she had lovely chemistry with Matthew Dye as Buttons and Robert Dearn as Prince Charming. Dye did a great job of getting the audience involved while Dearn had a superb double act going on with Liam Wakeford as Dandini. In this incarnation, Prince Charming and Dandini were reminiscent of Ant and Dec and it worked fantastically. Den Siegerstz from BBC Radio Stoke completed the line up as Baron Hardup, making his panto debt. He may not have been as overtly natural in panto-land as his co-stars but it was clear he was enjoying his first official role and how wonderful that his daughter is part of the Hanley Babes who appeared in the show too.
There is so much to enjoy in this traditional pantomime, relevant political jokes for the grown ups, a cast who come across as being one big happy family themselves and plenty of magic along the way to entertain the young ones. The parting shot which sums up how well the show was received by our four year old? “I want to be in this show when I grow up”. You can’t say fairer than that can you? Oh no you can’t!