Writers: Michael Harrison and Alan McHugh
Director: Michael Harrison
Reviewer: James Garrington
Each year the Birmingham Hippodrome panto seems to be more spectacular than the year before – and 2017 is no exception. This time it’s Cinderella, and you know you’re going to be in for something special when you find a famous soul diva belting out the opening number while flying over the heads of the audience – and even that’s not the biggest moment in the panto.
Of course, the costumes are colourful, and the scenery and lighting are spectacular – these are standard ingredients of a Hippodrome panto. What we also have is a great cast and seemingly little expense spared in making this one of the best pantos in the country.
Leading everyone through the evening is Hippodrome panto favourite Matt Slack, here for the fifth consecutive year in Birmingham – a fact he reminds us about during an amusing number when he recalls the different productions he’s done. Slack is without doubt a master of the art of panto comedy, very funny both physically and verbally, with some material aimed at the adults rather than the children in the audience but never in any danger of being smutty or inappropriate.
Slack is joined in the comedy department by The Grumbleweeds, Robin Colville and James Brandon. If that feels like comedy overkill, fear not – their styles complement each other well, as The Grumbleweeds bring a more off-the-wall and anarchic tone to their material, including some quite bizarre and yet very funny moments. Not only that, but Brandon can sing too – and he even gets a duet with Fairly Godmother Beverley Knight while Colville adds a touch of mayhem in a routine that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Morecambe and Wise show.
Suzanne Shaw gives us a Cinderella who is a bit feistier than most panto love interests, as well as showing us what a great voice she has. Opposite her as Prince Charming is Danny Mac, who not only sings beautifully but shows us why he managed to reach the final of Strictly last year. In fact, this is one of the things that make this production refreshing – people are allowed to really show us their talents, and not just in passing. The singers – and there are a few of them here – are allowed to sing, with Knight, Shaw and Mac all getting their opportunities alongside the comedy songs from Slack. Those who can dance get the chance to dance, and the comedians do their comedy – but not as sometimes seems the case, when people come on and just do their act – it’s all more integrated than that.
Ugly Sisters Ceri Dupree and David Dale arrive as expected in an array of over-the-top costumes, but don’t really get that much to do, becoming more supporting characters than the traditional panto dame. The whole feeling is that they are there more to show off the glamorous costumes rather than add much to the plot. Of course they’re mean to Cinderella and won’t let her go to the Ball, but their dialogue lacks a bit of bite, and they seem to just float on, deliver few lines, and float off to change into the next costume. It’s all too nice and too glamorous, without creating any traditional ‘baddie’ characterisation – though if you’re looking for deep characterisation and meaningful plot, you’re probably seeing the wrong production in coming to the panto.
In reality that’s just a minor niggle, there’s so much else going on that’s good that this is possibly one of the best pantos the Hippodrome has seen. The spectacle, the singing from some world-class vocalists, the dancing and the comedy – including one scene with a wayward Amazon Echo that ranks up there with the best – and you have a panto that is as good as expected from Qdos and the Hippodrome.
Don’t miss it – you’ll have a ball.
Runs until 28 January 2018 | Image: Paul Coltas