Review: Cinderella And The Lost Slipper, Grand Opera House, York, until January 5. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at

WRITER, director and co-producer Chris Moreno cracked it with Three Bears Productions's first Grand Opera House pantomime, Aladdin, then seemed to take his eye off the ball with a coasting Beauty And The Beast.

He knew it too, symbolically consigning the lumbering flying dragon to the pantomime scrapheap, after its lack of puff last winter.

In its stead is a stately white horse that takes nobly to the skies, leading Cinderella's carriage to Prince Charming's ball.

That scene is not the only transformation in Three Bears' return to first-year form. This is a light-footed third offering that comes in at just under two hours, the sensible panto running time, with veteran magician and entertainer Martin Daniels pulling the strings as Buttons.

Daniels cannily restricts himself to only two specialist magic tricks, one to perk up Amy Thompson's Cinderella, when she is being bullied by Steve Wickenden's Ugly Sister Calpol; the other as the entertainment at the ball.

Elsewhere, he knits the show together well; has an amusing dig at Donald Trump's powers of speech and takes part in the show's highly energetic slapstick centrepiece, The Twelve Days Of Christmas present list with Wickenden's dame and Danny Rogers' nimble Dandini. The inclusion in that list of four Trump placards and six Brexit treaties (rhyming with "sweeties", by the way) was further evidence of an upgrade in topical gags.

Wickenden's Ugly Sister has an even better two-liner about Brexit: one of plenty of highlights in a performance where he vowed to be twice as nasty, attracting twice as many boos, in the absence of Ken Morley, who was taken poorly in the second half of last Friday's first show.

Morley, who turns 76 on January 17, already had announced through The Press that Cinderella would be his last pantomime, and all being well, he will be eased back into his face-pulling, flamboyant-frocked role as Ugly Sister Covonia later this week, but he is expected to forego the exertions of that exhausting Twelve Days routine.

As it happens, Wickenden has been gaining momentum as the Grand Opera House's plain-speaking, saucy southern dame, and he adapted gamely to being one sister down, taking over her lines as the cast made knowing references to Covonia's indisposition. His frocks, courtesy of costume designer Rachael Keverne-Rath, are a scream too.

Wickenden and Daniels are the cornerstones of Moreno's cast but he has cast well in experienced hand John D Collins as Baron Hardup and Arts Educational Schools MA graduate Jack McGill as a gymnastic, strong-singing Prince Charming with more than a hint of Prince Harry about him (hence he is more often referred to as Harry throughout).

Amy Thompson, from Milkshake, has delighted on the Yorkshire stage since her Hull Truck days under John Godber while still a student and she is ideal casting as a northern Cinderella, full of personality and a cracking singer too. Dancers Jack Baugh, Jake Sands and Natalia Lovell play their part too, as does Emily Taylor, with her high-intensity choreography and musical director Harold Purvis, with drum rolls for the worst puns and lively accompaniment to the ballads, big pop numbers and Baby Shark sing-song.

Liberty X singer Michelle Heaton is the show's star name, with panto experience behind her but new territory in York as a "trainee" Fairy Godmother. She plays humorously on her Geordie roots, all "pet, bonny lad and pasties"; as a mum, she is very much at home with playing to and with a young audience, and she is full of excitable energy, but she just needs to relax a little more into the role to bloom fully, but that will come the more she settles in. Maybe take a few more liberties, Michelle!

The sets are serviceable, rather than spectacular, but all in all, this is the Grand Opera House pantomime as it should be: fun, boisterous, full of popular songs, and played by a focused cast whose enjoyment is palpable.