A NEW £13m Edwardian-looking era for the venue put an opening weekend wrecked by electrical trouble behind it and cautiously got on with the business of rebuilding a panto reputation.

Star name Lee Ryan epitomised the care being taken with this impressively restored gem by approaching each scene with the air of a man determined to find his feet as a charming Prince, even when Teesside comic Patrick Monahan was allowed free licence to batter the boyband member.

Playing reformed baddie Herman the Henchman, Monahan suggested that Ryan’s Blue foursome should reform as Beige and that bandmate Duncan James would have been available for another £20.

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Some of the other humour would have made a schoolboy shudder, but the eternal crowd-pleasing nature of The 12 Days of Christmas song allowed Liam Mellor’s Muddles and director Eric Potts’ dame Mrs Nora Crumble to end on a high.

Darlington’s Zoe Birkett stole the show as evil Queen Sadista, allowing her a darkly delicious version of Bodyguard song Queen of the Night, complete with flight out over the audience on a realistic-looking Pterodactyl.

Panto newcomer Natasha Hoeberigs made the most of her title role while The Magnificent Seven dwarfs are going to earn their corn by appearing in Lord Farquadd-style (Shrek the Musical) costumes.

Spennymoor’s Joanne Banks Dancers were enthusiastic but underused in a production which belted out “Darlo” in song regularly as a reminder of the Hippodrome’s historic return.

I loved former festive heroes, the Chuckle Brothers and The Krankies, appearing as Mirror On The Wall responders to Sadista.

My three young over-enthusiastic panto pals, who would have benefited from booster seats, enjoyed the closing wedding scene... although the fairytale jest of a Prince marrying an actress might still have gone over their heads.

Viv Hardwick