THEY bill Cinderella as the greatest pantomime of all – the timeless story of the downtrodden young girl who wants nothing more than to marry a prince.
But, perhaps because it’s early in the run, or perhaps because the kiddies haven’t had enough sugar, the show gets off to a quiet start. It takes a while for comedy veterans Jimmy Cricket (as Baron Hardup) and ventriloquist Dawson Chance and his turtle friend Willy (the Broker’s Men) to get the audience going.
And fans of the show’s top-of-the bill star Ray Quinn (X Factor winner 2006) may be a little disappointed that his appearances in act one are limited – although he does get to show some prowess as a fencer.
Cinders, played by panto newcomer Emma Stephens, is sweet and smiley as she lives her dream accompanied by faithful friend Buttons (Adam C Booth) and her earthy, feisty Fairy Godmother (Deena Payne, recently escaped from Emmerdale). And it’s Buttons’ energy that keeps the show going in the first act.
As with all pantomimes, there is nothing that can’t be shoehorned in to keep the show current and relevant. So there are familiar tunes, references to X Factor and TOWIE, and some local gags.
The costumes are sumptuous throughout and the sets look fresh and glam. And there’s a real “aah” moment when the pumpkin turns into a coach drawn by two white Shetland ponies.
Panto wouldn’t be panto without at least one man dressed as a woman, and Cinderella gives us two. Brian Godfrey and Darren Southworth are the Ugly Sisters – who start off at about Lily Savage level and become ever more gloriously grotesque as the show goes on.
After the interval there’s a lot more of Ray Quinn, who combines a self-deprecating Scouse wit with an excellent singing voice in a genuinely charming Prince Charming as the show builds to the ball and a gorgeous white and silver finale.
The audience eventually warms to Cricket’s gentle silliness and takes part in a rousing sing-song. The singing and dancing is sound throughout, the ensemble is lively and, as ever at Darlington, the young Joanne Banks Dancers are cute and capable.
If there’s one quibble it’s that the otherwise splendid live band occasionally overwhelms the vocals.
All in all, though, this is fine family entertainment in a venue which has spent much of the past year with the spending axe hanging over it. Thankfully, Darlington Council now seems to have found a model which allows it to keep the Civic open, and that has to be a good thing. Tickets for next year’s panto, Sleeping Beauty, are already on sale at 2011 prices.