grand cinders

Cinderella, Evie Pickerill, in the dark forest displaying the wonderful video enhanced sets.

Pictures: Tim Thursfield


Wolverhampton Grand


What a cracker of a show, full of fun and glitz, packed with laughs and awash with that warm glow of Christmas promise that panto can bring.

It’s a family show for all ages, with nothing to give maiden aunts the vapours and innocent enough to mean there are no awkward questions to answer from inquisitive children – just plain, old fashioned, good clean fun.

And, note to Grand, book Tam Ryan now for next year’s panto, he is just brilliant as Buttons; on a night of stars he shines the brightest, the out and out favourite of my two grandsons, aged six and 10.

He has that ability to be best mates with the audience from the moment he walks on stage, full of asides and comments that bring the audience in and make them feel part of the show, and, essential to the role, he is wonderfully funny.

Buttons, as always, sticks up for Cinderella, a lovely performance from Kingwinsford born Evie Pickerill, now of Cbeebies, who, in one of those quirks of fate, last appeared at the Grand back in 2003 in WBOS’s Jesus Christ Superstar.

tam Ryan

Tam Ryan is just superb as Buttons

She has a fine voice and portrays all the innocence of the put-upon Cinders bullied by her stepmother and stepsisters, and what an excellent trio they are.

Julie Stark’s Baroness Hardup is a masterclass in controlled evil with looks and flouncing that can chill and a voice that can pierce even the bravest soul. Very much tongue in Goth cheek. Loved her.

Her daughters, the stepsisters, in many a panto are often men in drag, the ugly sisters, a couple of extra dames . . . oh yes they are!

Not here though, and forget ugly as well, Tess, played by Ella BiddleCombe, and Claudia, Britt Lenting, are all girl, displaying a streak of comedy meanness as wide as the stage. Loved ‘em both. They added to their appalling appeal, after being told by the baroness they needed to find rich husbands, by picking on two poor souls in the audience to be their choices, if nothing better came along of course.

Which at least gave the two potential husbands something to do, or else, when called upon to respond every so often.

But with no ugly sisters the sole weight of damehood fell, once again, on Ian Adams, his fifth year in a frock at the Grand after nine years at Lichfield Garrick. He first played a dame back in 1999 and takes Dame Penny Pockets in his supremely experienced stride.

Up the royal end of the cast we had AJ Pritchard, once of Strictly, who is a personable Prince Charming and his brother Curtis, also a professional dancer, who made it to the final of Love Island, and provides a little, light royal relief as Dandini.

stepmum and sisters

Deliciously evil - Ella Biddlecombe as Tess, Julie Stark as Baroness Hardup and Britt Lenting as Claudia.

Now with Cinderella scrubbing away in Hardup Hall, and Charming lounging about in his palace the chances are they are never going to meet, so we need a Fairy Godmother to do all the heavy romantic lifting, so enter, in a puff of pyrotechnics, Five Star’s award winning Denise Pearson. What a voice that lady has.

The transformation scene of Cinders from rags to Princess might be simple, but by the panto Gods, it is mighty, stage filling spectacular, with ooohs and ahhs all around from bright eyed youngsters - this is every little girl's cinderella.

Add an ensemble of six, working so hard there seemed more at times and all the characters are in place and the Grand’s co-producers Coventry based Imagine Theatre have some neat tricks to enhance Mark Walters set and costumes – video designed by Nina Dunn.

An elaborate back wall and flats have embedded video screens which means the village, the palace, Hardup Hall, the forest, dark forest and indeed any scene can be changed at the click of a computer mouse making scene changes, along with mood, instant when allied to Jamie Corbidge’s lighting. It makes for a fast paced show, not giving young children even a second to lose interest.

Writer and director Will Brenton has given a well balanced mix with dancing (choreography Racky Plews), and singing but not enough to lose a young audience and making sure there is plenty of comedy.

Music comes from an excellent five piece under musical director Michael Baxter and sound designer Ben Harrison has ensured excellent levels to balance voices and music, an art that you only ever notice when the balance is wrong.

All in all a first class panto and a welcome return after last year’s dark Christmas. Fun and a festive treat for all the family. Cinders will be heading to the ball until 09-01-22.

Roger Clarke


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