THIS is a new age with a new stage for professional pantomime in York.

The reopened York Barbican has joined the Grand Opera House as the second purveyor of a commercial Christmas panto, and any rivalry will surely be with the Opera House rather than dame Berwick Kaler’s unique appeal at the Theatre Royal.

Billing Cinderella as “York’s biggest panto” is a cheeky piece of marketing – based on audience capacity alone – but the bravado is endemic of an extremely assured debut by producer Gary Telfer of Blue Genie Entertainment and co-producers Antony Stuart-Hicks and Paul Leno of Ash Productions.

The Barbican is not a natural setting for a pantomime, being better suited to concerts, but a makeshift proscenium arch gives the hall a more theatrical look, and Cinderella has the added impetus of its star turn, Tracey Beaker’s Dani Harmer, making it all the way to last Saturday’s final of Strictly Come Dancing. Dancer Jessica Pease understudied Harmer for the panto’s first two days, but dancing dervish Dani was back to swap one dancefloor for Prince Charming’s palace ballroom on Sunday afternoon and evening, when any disappointment at finishing fourth would have been softened by the whoops and cheers that greeted her.

Ironically, Dani did not have to do much dancing in the panto – for which she rehearsed in the mornings in York before linking up each day with Strictly partner Vincent Simone – but whenever she did break into a dance step or leap, more cheers followed.

In truth, her delightful Cinderella is not the real star of Stuart-Hicks’ vibrantly-directed debut York panto. Instead, her best mate Joe Tracini, magician, Hollyoaks soap actor and son of comedian Joe Pasquale, is the biggest hit here.

Playing Buttons, the goofy-faced, bespectacled Tracini has more than a hint of Alan Carr’s camp sauce about him, but he appeals to a younger audience with his cheeky chappy act.

More in keeping with the rundown Downtown Abbeyville home of Baron Hardup (Minster FM’s James Watt) than the Prince’s palace, the sets are far from lavish or spectacular, but Tracini makes a virtue of this, drawing attention to having to pull across a scenery curtain and drag off a table himself. “Oh, the magic of theatre,” he mocks.

Tracini has a cracking adlib when greeting Cinderella’s tears by teasing Dani, “Are you sad because you didn’t win Strictly?”, and he will surely be the first name on the list for a Barbican return next Christmas.

Joe Swash, him off EastEnders and I’m A Celebrity, does not take playing Dandini exactly seriously, but his squeaky, Cockernee irreverence goes down well, whether tripping himself up on the ballroom staircase or always looking for the possibility of an impromptu extra laugh.

Iestyn Arwel’s Prince Charming is a thoroughly decent chap as Prince Charming, singing Robbie Williams’s Candy and Take That’s ubiquitous Rule The World with plenty of dash, while Marjorie Keys adds a voice of considerable panto experience as the Fairy Godmother.

Steve King’s Babs and Olly Taylor’s Dot are a specialist Ugly Sisters act, The Wugly Sisters, who have designed their own costumes – a fabulous show of their own – and pack a punch in their dialogue too.

Indeed Paul Ferguson’s new script is one of the major plus points of the Blue Genie/Ash show. Plenty of familiar slapstick routines feature, but the daft humour, the local gags, the interplay, all fizz alongside them because they are fresh.

Alison Hefferon’s choreography for dancers Jessica Pease, Alison Parsons, Thomas Rowan and Brian Hitchin is vigorous and exciting and musical producer Simon Barnard has picked his pick of old and new songs cannily, although the music is recorded rather than played live.

The Grand Opera House is a far prettier location for a pantomime and has a proper band, but the Barbican’s Cinderella is better written, wilder and more fun for cast and audience alike – and has Shetland ponies too. producer Simon Barry at the GOH must now shake up his act because, for the first time, he has a serious, amusingly irreverent, new rival in town.

Cinderella, Blue Genie Entertainment/Ash Productions Live, York Barbican, until December 30. Box office: 0844 854 2757 or