Panto wow factor

Cinderella - Lyceum Theatre Sheffield - 7 December 2012''Directed by Paul Hendy''Damian Williams as Buttons
Cinderella - Lyceum Theatre Sheffield - 7 December 2012''Directed by Paul Hendy''Damian Williams as Buttons

AS usual Sheffield pantomime favourite Damian Williams is lighting up the Lyceum but this year he has stepped out of his dame’s apparel and donned the breeches of Buttons, sidekick of Cinderella.

There’s no less scope for his comedic tropes, those Tommy Cooper-Les Dawson-style double takes, raised eyebrows and irrepressible ad-libbing, not to mention milking the pathos of being the lovelorn ‘best friend’.

The drag stuff is in the hands of Ian Smith and Michael J Batchelor as Lyceema and Crucibella and you soon realise that Williams could not possibly be an Ugly Sister. They are every bit as outrageous and perhaps even outdo him in flamboyant frocks but their comedy banter is designed to earn boos as well as laughs whereas the Dame needs to be everyone’s friend. Besides, where would you find a second Damian Williams?

Once again he is the life and soul of the show which is in no way to diminish the rest of the cast - Sue Devaney flying in and out as a Lancastrian Fairy Godmother, the strong vocals of Jonathan Ansell as Prince Charming and Kate Quinnell as Cinderella, Ben Faulks (Cbeebies Mr Bloom) as a perky Dandini and Sheffield’s David Westbrook a sprightly Baron Hard-Up. Choreographer Aaron Francis has drilled a slick ensemble too.

It might sound as if it’s the mixture as before, but co-producers Evolution have not rested on their laurels and with Cinderella have upped the ante.

In particular at the end of Act One they come up with a wow factor to send the audience into the interval. First comes a bit of how-did-they-do-that? illusion as Cinders is transformed from skivvy to princess, then there’s a breathtaking special effect that everyone in the auditorium directly experiences followed by an awesome piece of stagecraft as our heroine in her coach is taken off (literally) to the ball.

If the second half isn’t as spectacular, it delights by delivering the expected Lyceum panto chestnuts - the daft it’s-behind-you ghost gag “on a conveniently-placed bench,” Old Macdonald’s Farm with kids on stage .

Cinderella runs to January 6 and Damian Williams will be back in a dress next year as Dame Trot in Jack and the Beanstalk. Tickets are already on sale and selling like hot mince pies, apparently.

Ian Soutar