Cinderella, The Mayflower, Southampton, until January 4.

Cinderella Lauren Hall as Cinderella Brian Conley as Buttons. Photo Credit Robin Jones~1
Cinderella Lauren Hall as Cinderella Brian Conley as Buttons. Photo Credit Robin Jones~1
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Did Buttons really just give Prince Charming a wedgie? And what on earth was hanging out of Buttons’ trousers as he apparently played the violin?

Seeing is kind of believing in the magical world of panto Brian Conley-style – and the result is hilarious, one of the best pantos you’ll see anywhere this Christmas.

To an extent, it becomes the Brian Conley show, but who cares when it’s this good. The rest of the cast soldier on around him as Conley brings the house down time and again with his madcap antics, developing running gags with the audience and always keeping the crowd loudly on his side.

Gok Wan is The Fairy Gokmother and certainly gives a nice performance, but he’s wise not to compete with Conley, allowing Brian to run away with the show, fearless when it comes to children and animals.

Conley is superb in the age-old get-a-few-kiddies-up-on-stage routine, and he makes you go all Christmas-tingly when he sings a horse – yes, a real live horse – to sleep and cuddles up with him on a cushion.

Conley mucks around hilariously with Gok and is winningly lovelorn with Cinders, a spirited who Lauren Hall who gamely accepts she isn’t going to be the star of the show she gives her name to.

Elsewhere, The Ugly Sisters Martin Ramsdin and David Robbins are outrageous and ugly in equal measure as Cinders’ befrocked tormentors, and Chris Ellis-Stanton does as much as he possibly can with the colourless role of Prince Charming.

The scene where Charming, Cinders and Buttons battle it out on a wall is a hoot; and there’s more to come in a second half which gets better and better. Cinderella gets to go to the ball in a real flying coach; Conley soars out over the audience on a motorbike.

Yep, this is the panto that’s got the lot – not least the unexpected!

Phil Hewitt