Cinderella Grand, Wolverhampton ????? HHHII There's a flash of stage lighting, a sound crash from the band and Julian Clary walks on as Dandini. The costume is camp 18th century, very like its wearer, but Mr Clary is a true professional, nothing pale or scented here but a robust, slightly weary take on a tiresome world.
In fact, behind that tranquil gaze lurks a shrewd performer with an adder's tongue, a man who is probably as tall as John Wayne and rather like Wayne is never up-staged and never raises his voice to achieve an effect. Mr Clary, like everyone else, is a denizen of Pantoland which is another country, where nothing is so rare as the normal. Here time stands still, fashions are from somewhere else altogether and so the back alleys and side streets of Cinderella's village (all the settings beautifully-designed incidentally) usher in a motley crew of vaguely 18th century dancers who must also sing for their supper.
But they do it well enough, although here and there the demands of the choreography proved a bit too much and a company dancer almost hit the stage in a tricky swingover which started off badly (hastily corrected by her faithful male partner I'm happy to say) and fortunately ended happily. Still, things move swiftly in panto and cheers went up from the villagers when the Uglies arrived (Ben Stock and Tony Jackson in what you might call "Uglies couture"). Some of their jokes needed freshening up, and when it came to trying on the silver slipper it really is time something new was wheeled out as a replacement for the stale endless knitted stocking routine.
This year's Cinderella is Alice Baker, who finds the pathos and sudden joys the part demands and sings well. Her Prince Charming is Will Richardson, a young blond actor with a good singing voice and a bright future who is to be congratulated for turning a sow's ear into a silk purse and leaving a very pleasant memory of courtliness and good manners.
Once again this is a production where you stick your fingers in your ears to tone down the crazily-high decibels. But nothing fazes Joe Tracini's comical Buttons (a fugitive from Hollyoaks) who proves his worth when the children come on stage to sing Old Macdonald Had A Farm - a lovely delicate sequence.
Runs until January 18.
Julian Clary is a true pro as Dandini in CINDERELLA.