It’s Panto season, which means it’s Christmas time!
Now, I know a pantomime is a bit like marmite. Bitter and over powering. Oh no, I mean you love them or hate them. That’s the one. I sit firmly in the ‘love’ camp wearing my horrible knit jumper and scoffing a mince pie. Go home or go big right?
And Manchester is definitely going big with their production of Cinderella, a timeless classic that is ripped to shreds in panto style!
You know the story. Cinders is bullied by her step sisters, supported by her friend Buttons, has a magical fairy godmother up her sleeve and a prince waiting in the wings. Yet this panto’s imagination and invention make it funnier, bigger and better than ever.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Ben Nickless is the twinkling star of the show. He cooks up the panto spirit with heaps of silliness, a fat dollop of childishness, a gob full of gags and a daring dash of adult humour. Voila! I mostly cried with laughter at anything he did.
He works the crowd and, as is tradition, confidently brings the audience into the performance, especially the poor dad he soaked… He’s also home grown talent being a proper Northerner from the same town as me! Big up Rochdale!
Look out for his record skit, celebrity impressions and Elvis performance. Surely he’s now going to star in every Manchester panto? Surely?
Gareth Gates is a charming prince with a lush voice to match. His vocals are softer than I remember from his Pop Idol days. I usually see males in this type of role burst out into their deepest and toughest tones but I’m all about breaking stereotype. I particularly enjoyed ‘Unchained Melody’ which took me back to when I had a huge crush. I’m sure 12-year-old Gina would be very jealous.
Shannon Flynn, also a Rochdale lass – yipee, is a kind and loving Cinders who I hoped would have had more attitude, although that is no fault of hers. Pantos are in the perfect position to chew up tradition and spit it back out for the 21st century. They certainly did that with the modern and local references, including a Trump cameo, but they could have extended it to the leading lady.
Good vs Evil
What’s Cinderella without her ugly sisters?
Les Dennis and Connor McIntyre are big, burly and beautiful ugly sisters. They have a booming, or should that be ‘booing’, presence on stage which is down to their ridiculous costumes and shocking make up just as much as their comedy timing. The constant soap references did go over my head but my mum found them hilarious. She’s a soap Queen you see. You can tell Les is a long standing performer whereas Connor seems a little on the quiet side.
The wonderful Fairy Godmother, Hayley-Ria Christian, has a powerful voice and always appears on stage in a poof of smoke to sprinkle some magic, like conjuring up tap dancing pumpkins. Yes I did write that. I wish Jack Wilcox had more singing time as the Prince’s advisor though. And not forgetting the talented children from the Stalder Academy of Dance who pull out some impressive tricks and of course add a cute factor to the show.
A magical production
The production behind this panto is simply incredible! The sets are big, the costumes are glamorous, the choreography is fun, the music is current and the special effects are magnificent. The flying horse and carriage at the end of Act One made my mum cry. No joke. She hasn’t seen a panto in over 50 years and my how they have changed. She’s never seen something so truly magical. Totes emosh.
But my most favourite thing about any panto is the permission to rule break. You can shout, scream, dance, laugh, cry and chat without an angry usher or audience member glaring you to death. Unless it’s recording. That’s still a big no no. It’s a relief to express, enjoy and interact with the show and a welcome permission to be foolish in a sadly serious world. That includes the adults too!
Cinderella is a top-quality production that will entertain and surprise the whole family. It is panto perfection and a funny festive must do this season.
Cinderella plays at Manchester Opera House until Monday 30th December.
Do you enjoy a panto? Let me know in the comments below.
Photo credits: Phil Tragen