With the Circle packed with Maidenhead Brownies all singing heartily along to Frozen’s Let It Go even before the stunning Sleeping Beauty curtain was raised, audience anticipation and excitement for both Christmas and the performance we were about to see was clear – welcome to the Theatre Royal Windsor for the start of Panto season.

Once the story of the curse is out of the way as a prelude narrated by a truly amazing looking Denise Pearson as Fairy Fancy, this version of the tale, written by Stephen Blakeley, takes us straight into Aurora’s 18th birthday party, leaving room for all that important stuff of which there will be plenty: gags, songs, dancing, audience participation… and more gags, obviously.

Celebrity stars are a fixture of modern Panto, and here we have Tom Baker (in voice only) and Basil Brush (apparently a puppet) as bill toppers, with Mike Read as King Clifford and Jenny Ryan as Carabosse the Evil Queen. While I’m not totally convinced of the wisdom of casting non-actors even in Panto, of course in the world-turned-upside-down that is Panto, Kings and Queens are the least important people, and it’s Chester the Jester and Nurse Paloma Pinchme that drive the show along.

Kevin Cruise as Chester blends silliness and humour in such a good natured way as to make him the perfect host, appealing to children and adults equally, while Stephen Blakeley plays the pantomime dame Nurse Pinchme with both a wonderful dryness and his ever-arching eyebrows. This pair are genuinely very funny and provide real heart to the show, bickering brilliantly with Basil Brush, and climaxing with their riotous rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas, turning down calls for an encore on the basis that it was already their second (exhausting) time today.

Oldie goldies and the bang up to date, including numbers by Clean Bandit, Meghan Trainor (the apt Dear Future Husband), Ed Sheeran, and Little Mix meant there are songs that everyone knows, with the ensemble, lead by the standout Amber Kennedy, dancing and singing energetically and ably throughout. Our young love leads, Megan Jones as Aurora and Alex Jordan-Mills, were satisfactorily charming and attractive, singing pretty duets, but the musical highlight was Denise Pearson’s number at the end of act one which somewhat blew me away in this compact theatre, and I was sorry she didn’t have another solo to demonstrate once again what a fantastic singer she is.

Middle-aged dad (from Bracknell… you couldn’t make it up) dragged on to the stage, three cup bras thrown off the stage, topical jokes, local jokes, old, risqué, daft and good and bad jokes, pies, eggs, singing, dancing, silliness and romance, it’s all there at the Theatre Royal Windsor this panto season. Have no doubt that the audience’s early anticipation was very well rewarded indeed.
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