BWW Review: CINDERELLA, Bristol Hippodrome
'Alright me babbers!' is the shrill cry from the Ugly Sisters at this year's panto offering from the Bristol Hippodrome. The local references are lapped up by a fervent audience who are ready for laughs and spectacle this Christmas. On both points, Cinderella delivers in bucketloads.
Largely this is down to panto veteran Brian Conley - a consummate entertainer who dives into his role as loveable buffoon Buttons head first. His experience on stages up and down the country at Christmas shines through as he seamlessly segues between story and audience participation. At times, he has the audience in the palm of his hand.
He should also get a medal for his ability to send himself up - there are plenty of gags about his time on Strictly and his comparisons to Bradley Walsh. It feels like a good time of year to not take yourself too seriously.
The other celebrity draw is Gok Wan as The Fairy Gokmother (geddit?). While perhaps not the most challenging part in the show - Wan is slick, professional and likeable. The audience loves the references to his hit TV shows and he suits the part as the man to bring some glamour to Cinderella's outfit.
Indeed, Cinderella's transformation is one of those magic moments that Qdos Pantomimes deliver year on year. The one thing you can never say is that their shows lack spectacle or budget. There are audible gasps and whispers of 'that's magic!' as Act 1 draws to a close with a spectacular finish that this reviewer won't be spoiling.
Lauren Hall as Cinderella brings a pleasing innocence to the role and duets well with Scott Mobley (Prince Charming) as they drive the story forward. Ben Stock and Neal Wright are happily horrendous as the Ugly Sisters -with each decibel louder that the kids boo, the more they shine in their roles.
There's a soundtrack spanning the decades that the cast delivers with great gusto. We get bursts of pop hits past and present as well as the now be the obligatory song from The Greatest Showman.
There's one magical moment that requires no theatrical tricky as Conley invites kids up on stage to sing a song. As one clearly enthralled four-year-old leaves the stage, Conley remarks 'she's old enough that she'll remember this for the rest of her life, and that is the magic of panto'. It's a timely reminder that this will be the first experience of theatre for many and they're in safe hands this winter.