This year’s Northampton panto is a lavish, light-hearted, if slightly off-the-peg affair from Qdos. The panto juggernaut has several other Cinderellas in towns up and down the country, and you can feel the square brackets where gaps are left for local references: [insert shopping centre here].
Still, its bloody-minded traditionality – from end-of-the-pier jokes to birthday shout-outs – is good fun. Audience members of all ages will find the familiar pace comforting, though at two and a half hours, this is a beast of a panto.
The cast tackle it with vigour, the dames especially. Tommy Wallace and David Dale have a Spiker and Sponge vibe. They have bags of energy and hoover up most of the big laughs.
Panto hero Bernie Clifton is gently funny as Cinderella’s ageing Dad, tackling Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Changes Everything with a tremulously powerful voice that’s surprisingly reminiscent of Roy Orbison.
And Anita Dobson shines as an off-beat evil stepmother. At times she almost seems to speak in tongues – making you realise how rarely older women performers are given such free rein.
Dobson’s performance reminds us that even an uber-traditional panto can feel fresh, given a little subversive edge. But despite the fun and glitz, this Cinderella is too by-numbers to feel really magical to any but its youngest audience members.