Pantomime season is well and truly underway, and this year, Manchester is being treated to a performance of fan-favourite Cinderella like none we've ever seen before. With former Coronation Street stars Connor McIntyre and Les Dennis as the Ugly Sisters, Phelina and Michaela respectively (we see what they did there...), as well as a stellar cast also made up of Gareth Gates as Prince Charming, Ben Nickless as Buttons, Hayley-Ria Christian as The Fairy Godmother, Jack Wilcox as Dandini and Shannon Flynn as the titular Cinderella, the production's off to a mighty head start.
It doesn't take long for the laughs to start coming and the audience participation to get underway. Buttons is somebody who talks directly to the children in the crowd throughout - as well as the adults from time to time - poking fun not only at himself, but the grumpy parents who are sat with their arms crossed, demanding entertainment.
Nickless is an utter professional in the role. He knows exactly how to deliver his lines for ultimate impact, and threatens to steal the show away from Cinders throughout. That's something mirrored by McIntyre and Dennis, who are the ultimate Ugly Sisters. One particularly memorable moment came when McIntyre's character Phelina let her mind wander, revealing that her true plan was to tie up Prince Charming and lock him away in her cellar. Sound familiar?
As Charming, Gates proves that he hasn't lost any of his talent when it comes to singing. He's not got the best stage presence when it comes to acting or being funny, but fortunately most of his time up on stage is spent delivering silky smooth vocals to songs including The Greatest Showman's This Is Me, but with altered lyrics.
Wilcox shines as Dandini; we just wish the character was given a little more to do. The actor is somebody who has a number of impressive theatre credits, so to see him allowed the opportunity to take centre-stage more often throughout Cinderella would have taken the whole production to another level.
As they're such big money makers, pantomimes often have a meaty budget, and that's something that's very clear when flying horses and a carriage take to the sky with Cinders and Buttons inside ahead of the show's interval. Reaching out over the audience, it was a delight to see the face of kids who were watching, blown away by the magic and waving to the stars.
Flynn is right at home in the titular position of Cinderella. She excels in the character's defining moments, at her best when she's given a little bit of glamour by Christian's Fairy Godmother. The professional vocalist is a good Fairy Godmother, but some of the biggest laughs we got from her were probably inadvertent, when we saw her rush from behind the stage in front of a small burst of sparks to give the appearance of magic.
Whilst the story is a classic one, the best moment of the entire show comes at the end when the plot has reached its conclusion. Nickless, McIntyre, Dennis and Gates all come together for a hilarious little number that includes some traditional slapstick comedy, laughs both off and on the stage, and a flurry of mistakes. Whether deliberate or not, they keep the giggles coming.
Cinderella continues at the Opera House in Manchester until Sunday, December 30, 2018.
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