Jonathan Kiley with additional material by Julian Clary and David McGillivray
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton
Cinderella is one of the most popular stories ever told. The rags-to-riches tale has enchanted audiences for centuries and has led to it becoming one of the most widely produced pantomime titles.
Of course, originally the pantomime version was bereft of Buttons and Dandini, two roles vital to the production today; Buttons came along in 1860, with Dandini an import from Rossini's opera of 1817.
There are many interpretation of the Prince's valet, who swaps places with the monarch to enable him to search for his bride incognito, but none so iconic and important to the history of contemporary pantomime as Julian Clary's.
First seen in 2000 at the Theatre Royal Brighton, Clary's aide-de-camp is a lavish creation reminiscent of the Dandy, with whom he almost shares a name. In a host of extravagantly plush costumes, the Prince's right-hand man delivers his innuendo-laden tirade to the titillation of the mums, dads and, in the words of Clary, alternative family units.
As well as the campery, Clary provides some of the evening's most hilarious musical numbers as he Rex-Harrisons his way through "That's Amore" and "Search for the Hero". A highlight of the show is his audience participation at the ball, where two members of the audience join him onstage complete with choreography, conga and quick-witted quips to the sound of Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody".
Whilst Clary provides the humour for the more mature members of the audience, Joe Tracini's Buttons delivers an energetic and engaging performance for the Grand's younger, and young at heart, patrons.
As Cinderella's best friend, talented Tracini captures the very essence of childhood as his manic Buttons throws himself about the stage in a feat of tomfoolery and silliness. Whether performing a magic trick at the ball, singing John Legend's "All of Me" or 'accidently' doing the splits as he tries to cheer up Cinderella, Tracini knows how to work the audience and proves he was born for pantomime.
The production is very much centered around the two comic characters, with Alice Baker's Cinderella and Will Richardson's Prince Charming both displaying their fine vocal talents but coming across as cartoon caricatures with high-pitched voice and arrogant charm respectively.
Iain Stuart Robertson makes for a lively Baron and Ben Stock and Tony Jackson as the Ugly Sisters are both menacing and mean in their series of outlandish costumes encompassing a wide manner of forms from desserts to dogs.
In a diversion from the more common narrative, the Sisters in this Cinderella arrive at Hard Up Hall to inspect their mother's potential new home, which makes for a strong payoff at the show's triumpant conclusion when the Baron, now rich due to Cinderella's royal husband, no longer needs the money, the reason for his betrothal in the first place.
As ever, the Fairy Godmother is always on hand to see Cinderella gets the reward she so deserves and Niki Evans delivers her Immortal with plenty of verve whilst a strong ensemble completes the line-up in a production full of chaos and campery.
Reviewer: Simon Sladen