Cinderella/Malvern Theatres

DIRECTOR David Ball stepped into the breach – or perhaps that should read breeches – and became an Ugly Sister at the last moment when it was decided that the previous incumbent definitely wouldn’t be going to the dance.

And what a stroke of luck that proved to be… because it’s hard to imagine this fantastically entertaining panto without that lingering vision of snarling, rouged lips, post office tower wigs, and congealed eyeliner blacker than poor old Cinders’ lot in life.

Pantos must have pace and this production has it by the slipperful. Much of this is down to Mark James as Buttons, an old-style funny man with a roly-poly personality and a voice like Jimmy Clitheroe with laryngitis.

He whizzes about the stage and grabs gags out of thin air, pushing the proceedings along at breakneck speed.

But tell me something. Are Prince Charmings generally getting older, or is it now fashionable for Cinders to go for the more mature man? All right, age shouldn’t make a difference, especially as it’s personality that counts, so maybe Ben Harlow’s prince is just in keeping with the times.

The other Ugly Sister is played by Paul Lawrence-Thomas and he perfectly complements his slippery sibling to form a poisonous cocktail of distilled venom, predictably earning all the requisite boos and hisses when the occasion demands.

But this age-old fable of right and wrong would get nowhere without a Fairy Godmother and TV star Alison Hammond most surely excels in the magic wand department, done up like some enormous, surreal Christmas cake, all glitz and sparkle.

As for Cinders herself, she’s as pure as the driven snow on the Malverns, a beautiful, glowing maiden for whom any number of princes might pop their crowns. Gemma Naylor shone with a festive brightness that probably rivals that old star about to rise in the east.

Cinderella is glorious, old-style Christmas entertainment and an absolute must-see for all the family. It runs until Sunday, January 7.

John Phillpott