REVIEW: Cinderella: A panto to be proud of – a must-see!

Curtis Pritchard as Dandini, AJ Pritchard as Prince Charming and Ensemble in Cinderella at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre – Photo by Tim Thursfield

Venue: Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Performance date: 07 December 2021

Reviewer:  Alex Birch

Star rating: ★★★★★

The fairy tale of Cinderella, the beautiful young woman whose kindly Fairy Godmother rescues her from a miserable life working as a servant to her cruel stepmother, needs little introduction. A staple story of many a childhood, it’s also a panto classic; the first pantomime adaptation of Cinderella opened way back in 1820 at London’s Covent Garden. As a result of COVID-19, Wolverhampton Grand Theatre’s Cinderella had to be pushed back a year. But was it worth the wait?

On first impressions, yes. The Imagine Theatre production boasts a colourful stage set up that is high-tech without overdoing it, a real feast for the eyes. Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother Denise Pearson, who in a previous life was an award-winning pop star, makes her entrance in a sparkly gown that exudes magic.

Her opening performance of “Permission to Dance” is a cue for what is to come: This 21st-century take on Cinderella has a soundtrack packed with stellar vocal performances, not only from Pearson but also from CBeebies presenter Evie Pickerill, who is charming in the lead role of Cinderella.

For the most part, the musical material is a mixture of familiar retro and contemporary pop hits, from Cinderella’s stepsisters’ (Ella Biddlecombe and Britt Lenting) kitschy and fantastically choreographed cover of 80s anthem ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves’ to the Fairy Godmother’s adaptation of Lizzo’s 2016 hit, ‘Good As Hell’. There’s also a highly memorable take on ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ that is delightfully silly. A highlight is Buttons (Tam Ryan) getting the audience to sing/yell ‘toilet rolls’ as he ‘harmonises’ awfully to comedic effect.

Cinderella is a story with evergreen appeal, but the nods to pop culture both new and old make it clear the creators of this adaptation went the extra mile to ensure it resonates with a wide audience. Writer and Director Will Brenton’s script is peppered with humorous references to politicians (a comparison of Cinderella’s evil stepmother to Priti Patel gets a big laugh). Most of these jokes are delivered by the wry Buttons, who smashes the fourth wall to pieces with quips about Arts Council funding and Brexit.

Attendees are treated to a fabulously camp marriage of Strictly Come Dancing, old-fashioned panto (think custard pies), and The X Factor: a family night out that is thrilling to adults and children alike. For the more mature members of the crowd, Dame Penny Pockets (Ian Adams) is in a league of her own, delivering some of the best innuendos of the evening (“my fox hasn’t trotted in a long time”), with the skill of someone who knows the art of pantomime inside and out; the person responsible for styling the various eye-catching wigs worn by the Dame deserves accolades, too. And a ‘he’s behind you’ scene featuring Julie Stark (who is impeccable as Cinderella’s evil stepmother Baroness Hardup) and an actor wearing a ghost costume, is a favourite among the children in attendance, judging from their excited shouts.

There is the occasional blip in what is otherwise a five-star production. At one point, Curtis Pritchard, who plays Dandini, forgets his lines, but he handles the incident with admirable grace, and it’s no coincidence that he receives one of the loudest cheers from the audience at the end.

Overall, Wolverhampton Grand Theatre and Imagine Feature put on a panto production of Cinderella to be proud of. The multi-talented cast seamlessly blend the time-tested panto tropes everyone knows and loves with topical humour that makes an ancient fairy tale feel new. Cinderella is a must-see.

Runs until: 9 January 2022

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