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Cinders puts on the glitz and everyone has a ball

Cinderella, Belgrade Theatre, to January 13. Glitter, gags, giggles and - as always - a great deal of audience participation mark this year's panto. I can predict it's going to be a hit.

'Tis the season to be jolly and few people do it better than Coventry's annual Christmas visitor, Iain Lauchlan, the grand dame of pantomime who's performed, written and presented children's shows on stage and television for more than 40 years.

I distinctly noticed more glitz and glitter in this year's show - and there's a magical surprise just before the interval which I dare not reveal in case Iain sets his fellow dame, Greg Powrie, out to get me.

After all, I'd already watched the preposterously-dressed pair grab Chris and Dave from the audience and threaten to kiss them if they didn't reach the stage before the music stopped. As you can imagine this led to a lot of desperate rushing up the aisles amid great hilarity from the rest of us, staying safe in our seats.

Of course, that's what Julie thought before she was also seized by Buttons, the show's master of ceremonies, and forced to listen to his Ed Sheeran impressions.

Hands up, I already love Buttons - Craig Hollingsworth (pictured right) - and would have been more than happy to be serenaded by him. Or Ed Sheeran for that matter.

Of course, while Iain and Greg clown around in ever more outlandish outfits, they rely on Buttons to keep the action going and introduce us to Cinderella, played with sincerity and poise by Alice Rose Fletcher.

Her ballroom dancing with Prince Charming was delightful and showed her ballet skills to their best advantage.

Her prince was played with refined confidence - and no cliched thigh-slapping - by Bethany Brookes, who has only just graduated from drama school and has a lovely singing voice.

Completing the core of leading performers were Maggie Robson, having fun as both the fairy godmother and wicked stepmother, along with Letitia Hector as Dandini, who certainly takes up a lot of theatre space in the slipper scene.

I like the way in his directoral role, Iain hasn't lingered too long on the aspects of the plot which every child knows backwards. The key points are all there but, as he explains in the programme, the story of Cinderella dates back more than 1,100 years and has its roots in ancient China.

Instead he concentrates on traditional family entertainment that the adults can enjoy too. He knows the kids want the "He's behind you..." bit along with the "Oh no he isn't" routine.

He also understands that the youngsters Buttons pulls up on stage for a chat and the sing-song will be as naturally comic as anything he can dream up.

Basically, he knows his audience. Many of them could well be the youngsters he personally dragged up on stage so many years ago that they're now mums and dads themselves!

Perhaps more to the point, this is a non-celebrity-decked seasonal celebration of old-fashioned fun. Fewer big-name stars means more money for extra glitter on the fantastic stage sets.

Pictured: Alice Rose Fletcher as Cinderella, and Bethany Brookes as Prince Charming.

Photos Robin Day

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