Anne Cox reviews Cinderella at the Grove Theatre, Dunstable
It was a sad, sad situation but there was no time for former EastEnders star Joshua Pascoe to feel blue - not during opening week of panto.
You know that showbiz first night expression about break a leg? Well Joshua is showing what a trouper he is by performing in the Dunstable Grove Theatre panto, Cinderella, from a wheelchair.
The star fell off his high heels during a dress rehearsal and had to be rushed to hospital. Doctors saved the day and Josh, who played Ben Mitchell in the BBC soap, was determined not to let anyone down.
It isn’t easy playing an Ugly Sister from a sitting down position, and it does rather hamper the performance of his fellow dame and soap star, Leslie Grantham, but the pair still deliver a barrel-load laughs at this annual family show.
The pair, dressed as Dot Cotton and Peggy Mitchell, rely on Grantham, former EastEnders’ Dirty Den, to play up to his stereotype - and he does. No-one insults an audience better.
It’s always a pleasure to visit this Bedfordshire theatre and its pantomimes are usually lavish and entertaining.
This year sees the return of Antony Costa, lead singer of the boyband Blue (though, with the passing of the years, I guess they’re now more a manband), who plays Prince Charming.
And he’d make a wonderful prince - if he only learned to enjoy himself a bit more. He has a lovely smile and an attractive little boy lost expression that would melt the heart of the Ugliest Sister.
But he needs to relax and have a bit more fun with the role.
The hardest working actor on the stage is CBBC presenter Mawaan Rizwan who steals the show. Playing the comic role is notoriously difficult but he makes Buttons look effortless.
He has bags of personality and instantly connects with the young audience who are used to seeing him on the TV.
He found a twin soul called Fred in Sunday’s lunchtime audience and the pair made a winning double act. In fact they were so good together that I suspected a plant and, if he wasn’t, then they should give him a contract.
“Do you wanna be in my gang?” Buttons shouted. “Not like in a criminal sort of way. I mean, I know that we’re near Luton but, you know..”
Later, the love-struck manservant had theatre-goers almost sobbing when Cinders explained she only loved him like a platonic friend. The poor chump was broken hearted (all together now..Aaah...). Mawaan is a natural clown and who wrings pathos from a single remark.
Panto regulars Lucy Reed (Cinders) and Jasette Amos (a glistening Fairy Queen) were back for about their third or so panto at the venue and they deliver the goods (though the poor fairy’s has a spell with a faulty mic).
I was disappointed with Cinders transformation which, in this production, seemed a bit lack-lustre.
The magical moment when Cinders is changed into the beautiful Princess Crystal, complete with pumpkin coach and horses, and wonderful dress, is the highlight of the first act.
But instead of the heady romance of the metamorphosis we had a banging disco/pop medley while Cinders changed into a so-so frock and not even the luxury of a wig to boost her glamour.
Worse still, for the first time ever, there were no cute little white ponies pulling a magical coach. In fact, there’s no carriage whatsoever. That’s like staging Peter Pan without the crocodile.
I’m sure families will still love this version of Cinderella. I has all the right ingredients for two hours of Christmas entertainment and the always reliable, gravel-voiced Grantham, looks splendid in a frock.
There’s a cheeky twist at the end when the cast hijack a Blue song and Costa protests.
“I told you mate,” shouted the singer to someone offstage. “No Blue songs! It was in the contract!”
Guess no-one told Richard Tate’s Baron Hard-Up (what a surprisingly great singing voice), or Buttons or Craig Golding as Dandini.
* Cinderella runs at Dunstable’s Grove Theatre until Sunday January 3. Call 01582 60 20 80 to book.