When the water guns are out and the decibel levels are already through the roof with kids shrieking within the first ten minutes, you know you’ve got a proper family show in store.
The Empire’s panto is one of the shortest running in the region (I imagine because the Empire diary is pretty choc-a-bloc with musicals), but it has no less sparkle.
Magical sets, a very likeable cast, real life Shetland ponies and plenty of Mackem references to Jacky Whites, The Cooper Rose, Greggs and more make this show as charming as the Prince himself.
Star billing goes to Scarlett Moffatt who’s swapped the jungle for waving the Fairy Godmother wand over Wearside this Christmas at a theatre where the County Durham-born presenter is a regular in the audience.
This is her first panto role and, although she doesn’t have an acting background, she brings plenty of the personality and charisma which has helped her become an endearing presenter on TV. She also shows off a surprisingly good singing voice, with a lovely tone, in the musical numbers which come thick and fast.
She grants the wishes of Gemma Naylor from Nick Jr’s pop band Go!Go!Go! who’s a great all rounder as Cinderella, especially in numbers such as Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, which is one of many sing-a-long tunes in the show alongside I’ll Be There For You from Friends, Lizzo’s Good as Hell and Jonas Brothers’ Sucker.
Her best friend Buttons – or zipper as the Ugly Sisters call him – is played brilliantly by Tom Whalley who’s got great stage presence and a real knack for slapstick. He should be the comic lead in the Empire panto every year.
Kids will delight in helping him out, whether it’s alerting him to the ghost behind him or singing along with him to a Sunderland version of I am the Music Man – I am the Mackem Man who comes from Hendon way.
Then there’s the Ugly Sisters, and what a gloriously horrible pair they are. Drag Queen Miss Rory (Dan Cunningham) and Duncan Burt are suitably revolting as Cinders’ acerbic step-sisters Rorina and Ruby Hardup.
Miss Rory’s built up a firm following as a host at Newcastle cabaret club Boulevard and her statuesque presences and razor-sharp wit fits perfectly in this dame role. As her sister states so perfectly “she’s got a mean streak bigger than Donald Trump’s hair.”
To match their larger-than-life personalities, the sassy sisters’ costumes are as far from understated as you can get. Think sparkly jumpsuits, a frock shaped like a box of Kleenex (or Queenex as they call it), lashings of leopard print and, my personal favourite, a flamingo head-piece that makes Miss Rory about seven foot tall.
When it comes to providing a night of wholesome family fun and plenty of festive sparkle, Cinderella really does clean up.
*Cinderella is running at Sunderland Empire until January 5.
*From Ant and Dec to Mickey Rooney and Orville the Duck, see our run down of Empire stars over the years here.