Panto is back – Two years after the dynamic duo of, Potteries own, Jonathan Wilkes and Christian Patterson last graced the stage of the Regent Theatre, Hanley.
Their enduring partnership has returned, along with a wonderfully talented cast, to bring this year’s festive production of Cinderella to life. In front of a packed-out audience, we we’re once again in familiar, comfortable, heart-warming and most of all hilarious territory.
For those of us who have become regular panto goers over the years the story of Cinderella is a well-trodden path. Ugly stepsisters (played with over-the-top grotesque hilarity by Viven Parry and Annie Wensak), Prince Charming (Ryan Jupp) and Glass slippers at midnight are delivered upon, along with all the traditional pantomime tropes which we have become accustomed too.
However – sitting comfortably in the grandeur of the Regent, surrounded by fellow revellers – us all exuding a collective atmosphere of Christmas panto excitement – this was a performance as much about returning to the Theatre (following last year’s cancellations due to the pandemic) and sharing in an experience, sorely missed, as it was about the story of the put-upon Cinderella (played with calm collected grace by Naomi Slights). There was unified feeling, after the past two-years of happiness and joy to be felt and heard through the laughs and gasps of the captivated crowd.
And so, to the production itself. It is in the writing of Alan McHugh and the direction of Christian Patterson, delivered by the comic timing and acting chops of the cast that we treated to an irreverent comic masterclass – complete with festive bells and whistles of which to sing, clap and tap to.
A special mention must be given to the comedic brilliance of Christian Patterson as Baroness Heifer Hardup as he (she) embodies a rapier sharp punchline delivery, reminiscent of Eric Morcambe, in his ‘two and fro’ sparring with long-time collaborator, the always entertaining, Johnathan Wilkes.
The set design and visual work is bold, bright, decedent and works as an extra member of the cast in setting place and purpose in drawing the audience in to this wonderfully wacky re-telling, accompanied by Disneyesque ballads and cabaret styled dance routines which help define this show as a multi-sensory event taking us, the audience, from laughter to heartfelt emotion and moments of simply -WOW! As Cinderella with help from Buttons (played with loveable perfection by our own Johnnie Wilkes) and her fairy Godmother, played by the captivating Olympia Curry a former student of the Johnathan Wilkes Academy, is transported -in horse drawn carriage- to the grand ball at the palace of the regal Prince Charming.
It is in the other moments, however, that the show raises the bar even higher delivering a plethora of dimensions which provide something for all ages. It is indeed no lie to say that the Carry-On styled innuendo is not merely ‘near the knuckle’ rather than it slices though the bone in giving a layer of laughter for adults, while the physical ‘slapstick’ is as bold and in your face as you would ever want in keeping kids of all ages reaching to catch breath.
Christmas is threaded throughout and in a mid show rendition of the 12-days of Christmas played out with comic timed perfection by (Kai Owen’s) exuberant and energetic Dandini, Button’s and Barioness Heifer Hardup the cast really lets you know this is truly the most wonderful time of the year, sat in the festive confines of the Regent – happy and content to be back amongst friends at the Panto!
A definite must see festive extravaganza for all the family.
Cinderella runs Sunday 2 January, 2022 For more information follow the link https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/cinderella/regent-theatre/
(Review by Adam Gratton. Images Clara Lou Photography.)