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Marvellous fun is full of magic moments.

Cinderella at Gala Theatre, Durham, until January 8 AS well as all the usual ingredients we want in our annual pantomime, we tend to expect an extra generous measure of magic from this all-time favourite. And, while ticking all those other essential boxes of silly jokes, slapstick, hiss and boo villainy and "oh, no it isn't" banter, this production delivers the fairytale too when Fairy Marigold (Helen Embleton) waves her magic wand to get Cinderella (Sophie Michaels) to the ball.

A beautifully-done scene, the highlight was a "dancing" pumpkin transformed into a coach led by a pair of real ponies, the aah-factor clearly winning hands down over The X Factor on Saturday night in a near-packed-out theatre.

I hadn't seen the Gala's panto before but this is director/writer Simon Stallworthy's third in-house, and the cast regulars, including Neil Armstrong and Donald McBride, are hugely popular with the audience.

Armstrong - who apparently has been in panto every year since 1987 - was a great baddie, goading everyone with insults as Baron Gristle, father of the Ugly Sisters - played by McBride and John Carter in a hilarious double-act. The audience loved them. Also getting the audience participation going were Paul Hartley and Jane Deane as Buttons and Dishes, who struck up an easy rapport while, in a twist on the brave hero, Tom Caley played a dippy Prince Charming, like Hugh Laurie's Prince of Wales in Blackadder - still getting the girl in spite of himself.

With its live music, chorus numbers, a bit of a singalong (I never can keep up with these: I don't know how children manage), colourful sets and costumes, it's fun, cheery and ideal family entertainment.

Definitely worth braving the cold for. Barbara Hodgson


DASTARDLY DOUBLE ACT The Ugly Sisters, played by Donald McBride and John Carter
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 8, 2010
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