Cinderella (Theatre Royal Plymouth)
Gok Wan stars as the Fairy Gokmother in Plymouth's annual panto
A quick bit of maths reveals that I've been watching pantomimes for half a century now, so it has to be something really special to have me leaving the theatre excited, delighted and hoarse from yelling "Hiya Buttons!" and "It's behind you."
Plymouth Theatre Royal's Cinderella ticks more boxes than an advent calendar in a show packed with energy. It has been tailored brilliantly (and let's hear it for the often-overlooked writer, in this case Alan McHugh) to make the most of its two stars – Gok Wan as the Fairy "Gokmother" and ventriloquist and America's Got Talent winner Paul Zerdin as Buttons.
From the moment Gok flies on stage to open the show, to the sparkly and sequinned finale, the pace doesn't let up. There is silliness, prat falls, dancing and singing, shouting, jokes only mums and dads will get and enough fart and poo references to have the kids giggling in delight. Add to that a flying fairy coach which closed act one with gasps and cheers.
I've seen pantomimes where some aspect of the performance is sacrificed for the sake of the stars – pop has-beens dominating the show with songs, or comedians making it all about just getting a laugh. But this Cinderella, directed and choreographed by Andrew Wright, really does cover all bases.
There are some charming dance numbers beautifully sung (who knew the Ugly Sisters could hold a tune?) and moments of great slapstick which are balanced with real pathos as Paul Zerdin squeezes every ounce of emotion from being in love with Cinderella (Robyn Mellor) before she disappears with the soppy prince.
The supporting cast truly understand their function in helping to move the action along. All credit to Ashley Day as Prince Charming and Matthew Malthouse as Dandini for making the most of sometimes thankless roles with some great song and dance numbers.
Alexander Delamere and Mark Dugdale were a real joy to watch as Ugly Sisters, Tess and Claudia. Proper panto dames seem hard to come by these days and they were top notch.
But the stars of the show were, well, the stars of the show. Gok Wan has a natural connection with the audience and an easy rapport with Paul Zerdin who was brilliant with his cheeky teenage puppet Sam, but also with members of the audience – a couple dragged up to the stage to don remote-controlled masks and four children taking part in a song, where Zerdin provided the voice for one young boy.
Like Cinderella, I was having such a good time I didn't glance up at the clock. Before I knew where I was it was midnight (well, not quite) and the party was over. It was out into the night with a crowd of happy, delighted families with huge grins on their faces.
Cinderella runs at the Theatre Royal Plymouth until 16 January