EVERY Christmas — with the exception of last year — there are usually plenty of pantomimes to choose from, but there are few which are quite as joyful and inspiring to watch as First Act’s festive production.

The group is unique in that the performers have a wide range of physical and mental challenges to work with — but it didn’t stop them delivering a vibrant and enthusiastic version of the tale of Cinderella, which appealed to the audience at Shanklin Theatre on all levels.

The Covid crisis has meant it’s been two years since the group last performed at Shanklin Theatre, and for some members, it was their first time on stage.

It was also poignant in that the show was dedicated to the late John Hannam, who was a great supporter of First Act.

Isle of Wight County Press: First Act - Cinderella - 2021

Some of the First Act fairies in action.

The definition of pantomime is that it’s a theatrical entertainment which involves music, topical jokes, and slapstick comedy and is based on a fairy tale or nursery story, usually produced around Christmas.

That was certainly true of this rendition of Cinderella, which had a cast of about 25 on stage each night and lots of memorable song and dance routines, including the Superman song, Cotton Eye Joe, the Fast Food Song, the Friends theme tune and much more.

The ball at the palace was particularly well co-ordinated.

It would be impossible to mention everyone, but Sarah Louise-McEvoy was excellent as Cinderella and was both a good singer and a graceful dancer.

Stepmother Grizelda, aka Rachel Stone, was a scream, as were the sisters, Hanky and Panky, played by Aaron Danvers-Jukes and Jade Hornbuckle — and they attracted plenty of boos when they were mean to Cinderella.

The prince cut a dash too, particularly in his scenes with Cinderella, while I loved the fairies and everyone in the audience laughed when the aptly-named Chain Fairy quipped that she wasn’t working that night.

Isle of Wight County Press: First Act - Cinderella - 2021

Sarah Louise-McEvoy was excellent as Cinderella.

Christopher Ayres, who is a new member, handled his role as Dandini with aplomb.

First Act was started 26 years ago by Carol Laidler and today her grand-daughter, Lottie Laidler, is among those spearheading this dynamic group.

Their on-stage helpers, as ever, played such an important job in keeping the show on the move — and the cast members clearly loved every minute.

The final number in the show was Best Day Ever — and from the wide smiles on the cast members’ faces, you could see that for them, it truly was.