A visit to a Jonathan Wilkes pantomime is the highlight of many a local family’s Christmas season.
After an enforced absence last year, the 2021 production of Cinderella has been eagerly awaited. Would the magic still be there? The answer is a resounding yes.
Johnny reprises his role as Buttons and is accompanied once again by Christian Patterson who this time dresses up as Baroness Heifer Hardup. The pair know how to play an audience to perfection and once again have the audience members in the palm of their hands.
Regular Regent pantomime player Kai Owen gives an energetic rendition of Dandini while the returning Naomi Slights is a beautiful Cinderella who is convincing as both a downtrodden scullery maid and a potential princess and she and Ryan Jupp as Prince Charming play a believable pair. Vivien Parry and Annie Wensak carry out their roles as the wicked sisters Stacey and Nessa with the right degree of nastiness while Olympia Curry is an exquisite Fairy Godmother. All of the above are able to showcase their singing and comedic talents to great effect and are ably backed by an ensemble that performs with flair and verve.
From the excellent introduction to the forthcoming fantasy by Curry and the opening energetically-performed number Footloose the audience knows that it is in for a highly-entertaining evening.
The dilemma that a panto producer has is how to amuse both the adults and the children who have come along to watch. The older members are catered for with a string of rather risqué gags that go over the head of the younger generation but there is enough silliness in the show for the youngsters to get involved and the preparation for Cinders to go to the ball has an awe-inspiring wow factor.
I had the pleasure of sitting next to a young girl called Tilly who rocked in her seat with delight throughout. She was completely wrapped up in the story and nobody was louder in their pleading to Cinderella to not go in the wardrobe.
There are few surprises in a Regent panto. Much of the material is recycled from previous productions including a hilarious Covid-friendly version of The Twelve Days of Christmas. However, there has clearly been a recent rewrite to include jibes at Boris. So why is Cinderella such a good production?
For me, the duet between Jonathan and Christian of That’s What Friends Are For is a perfect summary. The cast are clearly friends and this brings an extra dimension to the entertainment. They show a clear love for the City and the local citizens return that love in spades. In an emotional closing speech Wilkes declared “We’ve missed you.” Not half as much as they have been missed as was borne out by the prolonged standing ovation from the packed audience that clearly overwhelmed some of the newcomers to the Regent stage. This was a good old-fashioned Stokie welcome to an outstanding opening night.
Surprisingly, there are still some sceptics in Stoke-on-Trent. As a true convert I can say that Jonathan Wilkes and Christian Patterson – and increasingly Kai Owen – are our own national treasures and I would support any effort to raise them to local aristocracy. Long may they grace our festive season and hopefully Beryl Smith will be there for her 112th birthday next December.