Sunderland Empire panto waves its magic wand on Wearside

Sherrie Hewson and Amy Thompson in Cinderella.
Sherrie Hewson and Amy Thompson in Cinderella.
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IT’S beginning to look a lot like Christmas as the Sunderland Empire kicked off its annual pantomime in lavish style.

If the success of a pantomime was measured in decibel levels then this is a sure-fire hit as hundreds of excited schoolchildren shrieked, hollered and booed their way through a traditional show filled with laughter, sparkle, magic and more.

At the helm was Loose Women and Benidorm star Sherrie Hewson as the Fairy Godmother who did a sterling job of getting the crowd in the festive mood by asking them to help her on her quest to catapult Cinderella from lowly servitude into the arms of her Prince Charming.

But, of course, to get to the fairytale ending, Cinderella - played in a suitably sweet fashion by Milkshake star Amy Thompson - must get past the ‘baddies’ of the piece: the ugly sisters.

This dastardly duo, or Cilla and Daisy to give them their correct monikers, were played with aplomb by Jamie Morris and Tarot Joseph.

Like Ant ‘n’ Dec, fish and chips, and all other great duos, they bounced off each other brilliantly, delivering lines with ease as though they were well into the run, and not on the first show of the season.

Their costumes were a garish sartorial smorgasbord which provided as much comedy as their one-liners - think Kat Slater meets Lily Savage meets Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Watch our for their prince’s ball outfits, which shimmered like a technicolour monstrosity.

But it was Jamie Rickers as Buttons who put in my favourite performance of the piece. He was effervescent as the affable unlucky-in-love servant.

Jamie’s background in children’s TV - including stints on Nickelodeon and CITV - was clear to see as he built up an immediate rapport with the kids in the audience. Watch out for his dressing room scene with the ugly sisters when he performs a feat of alliterative panto poetry that leaves you panting just watching him, all delivered with a cheeky chappy Essex lilt.

Panto puns came thick and fast thanks to the comic characters and I struggled to see a child who wasn’t leaping out of their seat and joining in.

Set-wise, it was the transformation scene which drew gasps from the pint-sized princesses in the audience as the Empire stage became a glitterball of magic and sparkle, complete with real Shetland ponies. The kids didn’t seem to notice that Cinderella’s ball wig had a touch of the Barbara Cartlands about it.

And the follicle faux pas didn’t matter one bit to the prince who scours the land for his one-shoe’d wife-to-be.

As you would expect, the music was a mix of old and new with tracks from One Direction, Pj and Duncan, Daft Punk and well-known ditties which had all the kids, and most of the adults, singing along.

Up for having a ball this Christmas? Then this is the show for you.