What a joy it was to be back at Otterbourne Village Hall for the Sunday matinee of Otterbourne Theatre Company’s Cinderella, where the warm and attentive welcome by the friendly and efficient Front Of House staff went a long way towards blowing away the January Blues before the show had even begun.

Pantomime at its most effective needs a feeling of true community linking both sides of the footlights, and this lovely rendering of Cinderella delivers the goods marvellously, every aspect of the production having been lavished with care, attention and expertise. The technical aspects cannot be faulted, with superb sound balance throughout (sitting at the back of the hall, I heard every word and lyric clearly), the lavish lighting, props and scenery (enhanced by some ingenious animated projections), together with beautiful costumes, combining spectacularly. There’s slick and well-drilled direction, choreography and musical direction (plus a clearly efficient stage and backstage team), and I, along with the rest of this afternoon’s capacity audience, had a terrific time.

This is a show throughout which an abundance of charm and delight comes rolling off the stage to fill the auditorium, with Barbara Thomas’ ‘Fairy G’ welcoming us and setting the scene for what is to come. In the show’s title role, Nex Gibbs is delightful and appealing, and when Hannah Ashton’s splendid thigh-slapping Prince shows up, they make a perfect panto couple.

There’s also a splendidly imperfect couple, Grizelda and Gertrude, played by Jack Hobbs and Richard Daniels. A couple of butch bruisers, hilarious throughout, and two of the finest Ugly Sisters I can recall. (Any Dads in the front row might find themselves in danger… that’s all I’m saying!) A second comic pairing, Bodget (Nicky Williams) and Leggett (Elise Gibbs), are also great fun, as are Philip Tutt-Leppard and Barbara Hancox as Baron and Baroness.

Now let’s take a moment to talk about Buttons, presented here as a pageboy, and played by George Lucas – 10 years old, and giving a performance of astonishing maturity and confidence. A most appealing stage presence, let us hope that he will continue to pursue and develop his performing skills in the future.

Completing the excellent Principal Cast are Terry Revell as Chambers, Grace Smith as a spirited Dandini, and a splendid and endearing Hagan the Horse, brought to tap-dancing life by Sarah Hobbs and Ryan Bishop. The delightful chorus ensemble are as much a part of the show’s success as its principals, and are always a pleasure to watch and listen to.

The script is punchy, the jokes hilariously corny, the songs well placed (and well chosen), and the audience participation plentiful. There are further evening performances on Friday 21 and Saturday 22 January at 7.30pm, with 2.30pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday 23 January. Richard Daniels’ programme note as Chairman hopes that you “leave the hall with a smile on your face and a song in your heart”. Richard, I can assure you that we did.