The cast of Cinderella. Pictures: Paul Coltas


Birmingham Hippodrome


What an absolute Christmas cracker of a pantomime – as close to panto perfection as you are likely to get.

It is full of new routines, old routines, daft jokes and even a touch of satire – although the brilliant Theresa May and Donald Trump line flew above most heads – or at least took people by surprise; biting political comedy is not the usual stock in trade of panto.

This is Matt Slack’s fifth Hippodrome panto on the trot and far from becoming stale he has become Brum’s Mr Panto, just as much a festive tradition in the city as BRB’s The Nutcracker and the German market.

He has the ability to be funny to children and adults all at the same time, and that's pretty much all of the time. There are quips and jokes, one liners, funny walks and voices and he is like everyone’s best mate from the moment he walks on stage as, er, Buttons . . . this year . . . as he tells us. 

matt as buttons

Matt Slack as Buttons . . . this year

He manages endless laughs, moments of poignancy, and is superb with the panto essential of bringing children on stage except this time he . . . look, I won’t spoil it, just come and see for yourself . . . oh and the little lad survived . . . apparently.

Appearing in her first panto though is Wolverhampton’s Beverley Knight – and what a great shame it would be if she doesn’t appear in another. She might be Britain’s greatest ever soul singer, but she has taken to panto like the proverbial duck to water as the Fairy Godmother - she was terrific.

Full marks too for the producers who have given her the chance to sing some decent material. It’s not often panto is graced with a voice that good – we are talking international super star here - so why waste it.

She opens the show singing a panto anthem riding over the audience on a giant butterfly, which adds a touch of class, but then she also throws herself into sketches and routines, including a clever pop song tale of woe with Slack, like an old panto hand.

Beverley Knight

Beverley Knight making a superb panto debut as the Fairy Godmother

Adding to the fun as The Broker’s Men are The Grumbleweeds who have morphed into a very funny double act over the years with some wonderful routines including a very beautiful duet of Up Where We Belong from Beverley Knight and James Brandon – beautiful until the other Grumbleweed, Robin Colvill, discovers the remote control for lights, sound and mics. Very funny, including . . . never mind, just take a mac with you . . . and a little nod to that wonderful Morecambe and Wise sketch with Shirley Bassey – this time with wellies.

There is also one lovely delayed drop joke from The Grumbleweeds involving a ship in a bottle, which demonstrates just how uncontrollably hilarious silence – and Colvill’s expression – can be.

We all know there is nothing like a dame and Cinderella gives us two in the shape of the ugly step sisters with Ceri Dupree as the elegantly evil Voluptua, who stalks the stage with sophisticated nastiness, while sister Verruca, played by David Dale, is less sophisticated, less as in common as muck. She also gives ugly a bad name and has a mouth that she/he can turn through near 45 degrees to look like a Dali portrait.

The pair are not really afforded their own routine, but play their part in nudging the plot along, and double the costume budget with a different, spectacular costume – in the hallucinogenic style - for each appearance.


The Grumbleweeds

There are also normal(ish)characters with Suzanne Shaw, who shot to fame in Hear’say and now a West End star, as a delightful Cinderella, with a lovely voice.

Then there is Prince Charming, in the hands of the equally charming Danny Mac, best known as a finalist in Strictly Come Dancing, which shows the power of television, but he had an impressive West End career long before sewing on his sequins.

Another with a good voice he was last seen in these parts as an excellent Joe Gillis in the tour of Sunset Boulevard and he works well with Matt Slack with the pair managing a funny strictly dance off.

Gary Watson weighs in as Dandini while we have a strong ensemble who appear as soldiers, courtiers and pumpkins in some lively dance routines.

There seems to be a genuine chemistry between the cast, and a lovely balance with people playing to their strengths and all playing their part as a team to create the best Hippodrome panto for years. Everything works and comes together for two-and-a-half hours of panto magic.

Prince and Cinderella

Danny Mac as Prince Charming and Suzanne Shaw as Cinderella

The excellent six-piece band, under musical director Robert Willis, sound bigger than they are, choreographer Alan Harding has produced interesting routines and Ian Westbrook’s setting is clean and classy, helped by some spectacular lighting from Ben Cracknell.

We have come to expect special effects and as well as the opening butterfly we have a spectacular coach and moving horses flying over the audience to end Act 1, and, to be honest, a well written panto (Alan McHugh with additional material by Matt Slack and The Grumbleweeds) doesn’t need more than that.

The effects are woven into a strong, simple, traditional story full of laughs and magic, which is raising the bar for panto until 28-01-18

Roger Clarke


Next year producers Qdos are bringing Peter Pan to the Hippodrome with Matt Slack as Smee . . . next time . . . from 19 December to 27 January. 

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