Theatre: Into the swing with five-star Cinders

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The Independent Culture
"COME ON then - get it all out of your system," jeers Brian Prothero's wicked stepmother at the hissing audience. Here, they don't need much encouragement in that department - which is why it is such a great place to see a pantomime.

They were selling toy swords and magic wands in the front of house, and even before the proceedings proper had started, one little boy was seen devotedly bashing his weapon over the head of the drummer in the pit. The heckles have a good-humoured, almost free-associative abandon. While Cinders's nasty stepsisters, Cloaca and Lymphida, were getting dressed up for the ball, a girl sitting behind me yelled: "You are ugly! You are ugly!! You are ugly!!!... actually, I like that frock."

So if the audience gets a five-star rating, what about the rest of the entertainment? Wittily scripted by David Cregan, with lots of catchy, kidding songs by the versatile Mr Prothero, Stratford's Cinderella is a joy. In this version, it's really Dean Maynard's tall chump of a Prince who creates the initial miserable existence for Fiona Wade's ravishing heroine. Forever galloping around on his hobby-horse in search of the "less fortunate" ("Hello, are you one of the less fortunate?"), he inflicts his fatuous philanthropy on Cinderella's family by arranging a marriage of financial convenience between her dim, hard-up father and Prothero's Mrs Joy Da Palma. A monster with leopard-skin trimmings, she makes much use of a travelling punishment-cupboard with a silence lever. Will BGP (ie "boy and girl power") be able to sing fit to blast Cinders out of this prison so that she can try on the glass slipper? The only surprise, given the intensity of the response, is that the cast don't end up having to extricate shattered slipper from their wigs.

The show has across-the-board charm. Parents like myself who, unhinged by the current craze, have even begun to dream about Yo-Yos, should be warned that you can't get away from them here. Is there a Buttons throughout the land this year who is not wielding one of these harrowing toys? But then I doubt there is a Buttons in the land half as winning and unsoppy as Paul Keating, who delivers the deftly daft songs ("If the sky is falling in/ And you are as miserable as sin/ 'Cos you've lost your kith and kin/ Skip a bit and smile") with a lovely impudence.

There's audience participation, a radiant Fairy Godmother (Debra Michaels) who has been told by Head Office to restrict her magical assistance to those who are "damn near dead", and a very funny Royal Family who launch into a riotous rock'n'roll extravaganza when they decide to throw a party - the ancestral portraits on the wall behind them getting into the swing of things too. Cinders does, of course, get to the ball. And you will have a ball. You will! Oh yes, you will!

Paul Taylor

To 23 Jan (0181-534 0310)