Grand Opera House, York
Until Sun, Jan 4 @ 6.30pm plus matinees
£11.90 – £29.40
It is not every night that you watch an entertainer whose career spans five decades while you’re sitting alongside a comedian with an even longer showbiz pedigree.
But strange things happen at Christmas in York. And so I found myself seated next to Freddie ‘Parrot Face’ Davies who had come along to support his long-standing friend Anita Harris, starring as Baroness Hardup in Cinderella.
There is something about this generation of entertainers that those young X Factor whippersnappers could learn from. Anita Harris owns the Grand Opera House stage, bringing a strident glamour to the role of the wicked Baroness.
Singing a series of hits – including Michael Jackson’s Bad – the 72-year-old star demonstrated she has lost little of the vocal power that made her a recording star in the Sixties.
And the woman who was in a number of classic Carry On films showed her comedy chops, whether twirling her beads or timing a comic aside to perfection. In this she was ably supported by the Baron, played by Tom Owen, who famously followed his dad Bill into Last Of The Summer Wine.
Of course her fame was lost on my two young companions – daughter Mia, 11, and her friend Lydia – who are far more familiar with the new crop of YouTubers than any telly talent.
So they judged the show entirely on its merits. And the way they clapped, booed, hissed and sang along, they declared it a hit.
Anita was admirably supported by a cast led by two stars reappearing like magic from last year’s panto, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.
Malton’s Lauren Hood again takes the title role. She has this panto princess thing off to a tee, imbuing her Cinders with a girl-next-door charm which enchants young and old, allied to a great singing voice.
This was shown off at its belting best during two songs from the Disney hit Frozen, particularly Let It Go. (At this point Freddie leaned in to me and whispered: “Disney said they would sue the **** out of any panto that used their songs…”).
Her Prince Charming was Rob McVeigh who, as viewers of the BBC’s Any Dream Will Do will remember, is the owner of no mean set of lungs himself. He shared good chemistry with the very likeable Russ Spencer as Dandini.
If Cinderella is to sparkle, it must have a brilliant Buttons. Former Emmerdale star Stuart Wade worked his tunic off to ensure the audience got in the party mood and stayed buzzing throughout the evening.
Caroline Barnes – who with Russ was once part of UK Eurovision band Scooch – made for an unexpectedly funny Fairy Godmother.
And as Buttercup and Daisy, Paul Deakin and Tony Blaney were big enough and ugly enough to make a memorable pair of Ugly Sisters – although they were sadly underused.
A merry dance
We mustn’t go any further without delivering a hero-gram to the dancers. Led by choreographer Emily Taylor, originally from York, they add an extra dimension to the show.
Performing a variety of routines they were never anything other than stylish, eye-catching and polished. The ballgown sewing sequence was balletic.
The younger dancers mirrored their professional counterparts, mastering everything from twirls to tap. A big shout out here to two of Mia and Lydia’s schoolmates who appeared in the show, Alana and Alex.
Everyone on stage was ably supported by musical director Chris Hocking and his band, whose backing tracks and sound effects added much to the evening.
Music wins out
This is a New Pantomime Productions show, the 16th at the Grand Opera House in fact, and most of the audience knows precisely what to expect.
Local references are shoehorned in – Pocklington and Tang Hall are again thrown about as comedy stereotypes. But otherwise we might as well be in Wrexham, where another New Pantomime version of Cinderella is now showing.
You get songs, dances, jokes which most Christmas cracker gag writers would reject, a singalong – and well done to six-year-old Catherine for her Twinkle Twinkle Little Star solo – and a happy ending.
It’s a formula and it works. Strangely then, one of the most popular routines – The 12 Days Of Christmas, complete with toilet rolls and pratfalls – had been dropped.
Perhaps to reflect the nature of the cast, the balance of the whole show favoured music rather than comedy. Apart from a nice bit of prop work with a ridiculously long sock, the Ugly Sisters were’t given the chance to make the most of their comic grotesqueness.
And there was no slapstick sequence, which was a shame – the young audience would certainly have swapped it for another ballad.
That said, the Monday night crowd undoubtedly left the Grand Opera House with a bona fide feelgood factor, thanks to the efforts of a dedicated team.
Meanwhile Freddie Davies went off to offer Anita and her gang congratulations for a job well done – a sentiment my two young companions would certainly echo.