Until January 10, 2021
Theatre Royal Windsor
THE VERY idea of an all-singing, all-dancing festive spectacular has been, for many of us this year, something to add to our Santa wish lists.
The great man at the North Pole has clearly found a way and said that Windsor can go to the ball.
It’s not exactly the same as usual: Covid has seen many changes, but it is a fabulous night out and a chance to forget about our annus horribilis.
Social distancing rules mean that there’s a one-way system, the auditorium is not packed to the rafters, and an incredibly well-organised team bring snacks and drinks to your seat, both before the show and during the interval, while face coverings are worn when not eating.
The Covid rules also mean that the show has a reduced cast, no panto babes and the most chaste romance since Shakespearan times: no close hugs or snogs for Cinders, while Buttons is blown a kiss rather than a smacker on the cheek.
Sometimes you notice the enforced limitations, but most of the time the wit and charm shine through.
The usual panto conventions are followed: the show opens with a sparkling prologue from an equally sparkling Debbie McGee; a big song and dance number that allows audiences to appreciate from the get-go the wonderful voice and graceful stage presence of Alice Fillary as Cinderella.
Then comes the entrances for Windsor favourites: Kevin Cruise, this year as Buttons, Basil Brush as Baron Hardup, and Steven Blakeley as dame Lavitia, thorn in Cinderella’s side.
Each of them has decent jokes, helped by a sparkling script from Blakeley’s pen – there’s also plenty of Strictly references for Debbie to enjoy.
Cruise and Blakeley have a formidable and hilarious on-stage partnership. Sadly, no messy slosh scene (thanks Covid), but plenty of jokes about bubbles, and their Dancing on Ice routine brings the house down.
Basil has been entertaining children since the 1960s, so has wisdom beyond his fox-years and knows exactly how to time his naughtiness and punchlines.
Completing the main cast are Dominic Sibanda as Prince Charming and Joe Thompson-Oubari, returning after last year’s Aladdin, as Dandini. In a bubble of their own, they successfully team up for crown swapping hi-jinks and energetic dancing, Tik Tok style. They are engaging to watch – both have astonishing voices and expressive faces that light up the auditorium when they sing.
As Fairy Godmother, Debbie is delightful: warm, reassuring and, well, lovely. It’s a joy to see her on stage and take all the Strictly jokes with good grace.
There are some great touches. Cinderella’s transformation to the belle of the ball will make you book a trip to the opticians, as you won’t believe your eyes. A superhero dance routine segues seamlessly into a brilliant thank-you for our key workers, deftly done. And there are plenty of musical numbers to which the ensemble adds much delight.
There are some bits that didn’t quite come together. The drama of Cinderella losing her ball invitation felt slight, while The 12 Days of Christmas routine – designed to be chaos – felt too rushed. That said, it rightly got some big laughs.
But those are quibbles.
To have any panto this year, let alone one of this quality – thanks to Carole Todd’s direction – is a Christmas miracle.
Yes, we all look forward to showbusiness as usual next year, but this is a cracker of show that all ages will enjoy.