Festive, feel-good fun

Julien Clary

Just a little something he threw on: Julian Clary as the sartorially expressive Dandini


The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton


THERE is no doubt about the star of this sparkling family pantomime - Julian Clary is just superb.

His laid back style and throwaway lines are a delight as he saunters his way through as Dandini – his full title runs to several pages . . . that’s pages, not page boys by the way, to get into the sprit of the night.

His singing is . . . well imagine a gay Lee Marvin . . . as he talks his way through Search for a hero and I Wanna Dance With Somebody turning them into classic comedy with Julie and Ashley poor unfortunates plucked from the audience to assist in the latter.

Clary engages the audience, shares thoughts and remarks, and is genuinely funny as the most innocent of remarks are given an extra meaning by a pause, a glance or an aside.

Despite buttonsbeing funny, at times hilariously so, it is so far above the heads of children, and indeed some adults, as to be inoffensive and harmless fun in a family panto.

A small child behind me was laughing with everyone else when Clary paused with an innocent glance when told his ring was worth a fortune. As everyone else was laughing so did the child, although I would bet the housekeeping on the real joke not being within a million miles of his young mind.

Although Clary’s dancing was limited to the odd step here and there – his emulating Fred Astaire I suspect has never been an ambition - he did show his time on Strictly Come Dancing was not wasted with a more than competent spot of ballroom with a quick step.

Joe Tracini all dressed up as a coachman ready to take Cinder to the ball

Not that Clary was the only outstanding performance. Joe Tracini was a bundle of fun and energy as Buttons, with a clever magic trick thrown in to boot.

At the end in the traditional scene with children brought on stage from the audience while costumes and sets are changed for the grand finale, he had just the right touch, getting plenty of laughs but not at the expense of the children, which is a skill in itself.

The audience warmed to him immediately and he carried them with him from beginning to end.

Niki Evans, a regular at the Grand, is at home as the Fairy Godmother, with a Black Country accent to give a suitable regional feel, while Will Richardson is a suitably handsome Prince Charming with Alice Baker, in her final year at college, a young and talented Cinderella.

Iain Stuart Robinson provides a rather ineffectual Baron Hardup, Cinders’ father who allows her to be turned into little more than a slave by her potential step daughters while Ian Gledhill adds a little gravitas as the Lord Chamberlain.

The other key characters in Cinderella are the Ugly Sisters, in this case Amanda and Alesha, played by Ben Stock and Tony Jackson. Subtlety is not in their lexicon. They are loud, brash, in-yer-face sisters where even the rough edges have rough edges, with insults flying in every direction, and, as tradition demands, they have a different and more ridiculous frock for ever scene, although to be fair Clary outdoes them with his ever changing collection of silk and satin finery.

He makes Regency dandy Beau Brummell look positively down at heel.

The cast are supported by an energetic set of eight villagers, four boys and four girls, who provide chorus and dancer, while the Classic Academy of Dance supply a collection of village children.ugly sisters

The results is a traditional panto with a few new jokes and modern references and the budget even stretched to a handful of snow thrown over Niki Evans disguised as an old woman as she enters Cinder’s kitchen, which was a lovely touch for an extra laugh.

Dressed in the height of fashion . . . on some planet or other, Ben Stock and Tony Jackson as Ugly sisters Amanda and Alesha

The real effects were enough to delight children with a flying horse and carriage, floating over the audience, enough pyrotechnics to run a bonfire party and even a snowstorm descending upon the audience along with a glitter bomb to end.

Director Andrew Lynford has kept up a cracking pace while the five piece band under musical director David Lane kept things moving along nicely.

Some of the set routines of panto, which are becoming a little tired these days, were wisely left out but the spirit of panto, that uniquely British institution, was kept alive with the first Oh yes you are, Oh no you aren’t arriving before 10 minutes had passed and in the Grand’s 120th anniversary season some of the jokes were probably old enough to remember the original opening, but isn’t that what panto is all about?

This is a show with a strong feel-good factor the cast are having a ball and so is everyone else. The audience left laughing and smiling, adults and children beaming. There is nothing to offend maiden aunts, or worry parents of young children, it’s just a traditional tale, well told and fun for all ages. To 18-01-15.

Roger Clarke




Meanwhile, Oh yes it is


THE colourful programme for this happy show insists it is ‘the lavish family pantomime’ and no-one in the packed theatre could argue with that.

Fantastic costumes, great sets and even a stunning winged horse that threatens to fly over the stalls pulling Cinderella’s coach create a wow factor that thrills parents and grand parents as well as the children.

A clutch of beautifully designed outfits for top star Julian Clary, playing a dandy Dandini, must have taken a large slice of the budget, but he is not alone in the posh gear, far from it.

Cinderella, played by pretty Alice Baker, looks great when Fairy Godmother Niki Evans switches her patched up dress for a glamorous ballgown, and then there are the Ugly Sisters – Amanda (Ben Stock) and Alesha (Tony Jackson). They wear a range of brilliantly barmy dresses hoping to catch the eye of the handsome Prince Charming (Will Richardson). Some hope!

Inevitably Julian Clary dominates the panto – even telling the audience they are getting their money’s worth – though much of his humour and innuendo passes over the heads of youngsters in the audience.

He also proves that he can’t sing, speaking his way through That’s Amore while surrounded by a group of sexy dancers, once again in cracking costumes. But he has such a genuinely warm personality the customers love him.

Another man who works the audience well is Joe Tracini as Buttons, and as the panto draws to a close he has one of those much-loved scenes when he invites four shy youngsters from the stalls to sing with him on stage. Magical.

Directed by Andrew Lynford with David Lane’s musical direction, Cinderella runs to 18.01.15.

Paul Marston


Contents page Lichfield Garrick Belgrade Hippodrome Grand Alex Malvern Rep RSC  Town Hall Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre