When the producers sat down to plan the revival of pantomime at the London Palladium, they obviously decided the genre wasn’t camp enough. So throw in Paul O’Grady – in full acid-tongued Lily Savage mode – as the Wicked Stepmother, plus the outrageous innuendo of Julian Clary as Dandini, and the result is a dazzling production that’s off the scale.
Clearly no expense has been spared to produce a show worthy of the grand old theatre, from the starry cast to the spectacular sets and eye-popping effects. Designer Hugh Durrant must have come close to blowing the budget on a selection of extravagantly bonkers costumes for Dandini.
Along with O’Grady and Clary, Amanda Holden as The Fairy Godmother, Count Arthur Strong as Baron Hardup and Nigel Havers (who gets laughs just for being Nigel Havers) as Lord Chamberlain, you have a cast who can do this sort of thing in their sleep. Not that anyone sleepwalks here. They all launch themselves into their roles with a winning, self-deprecating and infectious enthusiasm.
Two genuine West End musical theatre stars, Lee Mead and Natasha J Barnes, play the roles of Cinderella and Prince Charming, rather than the soap or reality TV “stars” plodding through many a provincial panto.
Cinders and the Prince are often such wimps, aren’t they? But Mead (Joseph, Legally Blonde) is for once a bloke you can imagine women actually swooning over, while Barnes (who wowed audiences when she stood in for Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl) is a feisty and tomboyish Cinderella.
Ventriloquist Paul Zerdin as Buttons is also inspired casting. His quick wit, rapport with the crowd and astonishing skills with puppet Sam turn the often toe-curling audience participation bits (don’t sit in the front row) into genuinely hilarious moments.
To describe this Cinderella as over the top feels like something of an understatement, but it’s in a good way. There’s plenty of spectacle (dancing pumpkins, flying coach and horses), song and dance to keep the kids in awe, and enough risqué humour from Clary to have the adults in stitches – although I pity the parents who have to explain his gags to their offspring.
Cinderella is at the London Palladium until 15 January