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Cat Johnson discovers panto isn’t just for little people

Published on December 14th 2007.


So Christmas is almost upon us, which means I’m floundering with my present shopping and bemoaning the glut of pine needles under the tree.

All in all I haven’t been feeling particularly festive, but all that changed on seeing Cinderella at the Opera House. My date for the evening was my five year old son Joseph, who incidentally, had never seen a pantomime before.

Played camper than Christmas by two other panto stalwarts, Roger Kitter and Steve Luck - they get the majority of the laughs and hold the whole thing together with their deliciously vile antics.

Historically, Junior Johnson has only shown interest in things that involve dinosaurs, robots or Ninja Turtles so I was a little apprehensive as to what he would make, of such a girly offering.

Tina O’Brien (Cinderella) and Johnny Briggs (Baron Hardup) have swapped the cobbles of Weatherfield for the boards of Quay Street. Apart from O’Brien’s shaky vocals and footwork in the first quarter (her absence of theatre background is frighteningly apparent) her winsome, girlish charm does eventually succeed in bringing the Cinderella character to life.

It helps of course that she has the stellar support of panto veterans Bernie Nolan (Fairy Godmother) and Steve Walls (Buttons). This is Wall’s eleventh, lead pantomime role and it shows. Bernie Nolan gets the chance to show off her vocal ability and remind us all exactly why the Nolans sold so many records back in the day.

In fact, all the cast acquit themselves with honours, even Mike Toolan (Key 103) as Prince Charming but the stand outs for me were the Ugly stepsisters; the charmingly named Paris and Britney. Played camper than Christmas by two other panto stalwarts, Roger Kitter and Steve Luck - they get the majority of the laughs and hold the whole thing together with their deliciously vile antics.

Only panto can really get away with being blatantly politically incorrect. Immigrants and Gorton ASBOs were the topical butt of humour. Around the auditorium there were parents mouthing “I’ll explain later” and shovelling mouths with more e-numbers as a distraction technique.

But the beauty of panto is its freedom of expression and the balance between “adult” humour and slapstick kept both parents and children alike entertained.

The old tried and tested panto formula was there, but brought right up- to-date with Manchester “in” jokes and contemporary songs. Even I did a bit of foot tapping to the Scissor Sisters number.

Overall this is an outstanding production. Despite the predominantly, girly subject matter Joseph absolutely loved it, particularly the song and dance set pieces, to which he jiggled enthusiastically. The sets were suitably wintry and glittery, all adding to the aesthetic appeal. And even the coldest of hearts, would be hard pressed not to have found the two little Shetland ponies pulling Cinder’s carriage cute.

So yes, panto is schmaltzy and cheesy. But dated? No way. It’s a joy and a British institution to be cherished. So if you want to get yourself in the Christmas spirit, get yourself down to the Opera House pronto.

Cinderella, The Opera House, Quay Street, M3 3HP, 0870 401 6000, Opera House
until Sun Jan 6, tickets from £8.50

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