London Palladium W1 ****

01 Nov 13 - The Times (UK) - Donald Hutera

The company of mainly Russian championship skaters known as the Imperial Ice Stars are getting the jump on the Christmas season with this, their fourth frozenfloored adaptation of a ballet warhorse. Previous productions of The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and Cinderella on ice have all been of a high standard. Their latest offering is a smooth, brightly designed and undemanding (except, that is, on its 26-strong cast) pleasure.

While there aren't any outright surprises in Tony Mercer's familyfriendly staging — and it's unlikely that his target audience would countenance much tampering with such staple fare — it does contain some agreeable wrinkles. A good example is the cats, one black and the other white, who are instrumental in subduing the big-boned Mouse King and his tetchy Queen and cramming their rather meagre army of petite, pink-booted and somewhat fascistically clad soldiers into a cage.

More problematic is the casting of the veteran TV personality Keith Chegwin as Herr Drosselmeyer. His flighty assistant is Olga Sharutenko. The pair featured in the eighth series of the ITV hit Dancing On Ice, where Chegwin made sixth place. Although he acquits himself nicely here both as skater and even as magician, with his dark-framed glasses, jolly-uncle grin and mouthing of silent dialogue, Chegwin sticks out as a figure utterly lacking in mystery. Better to focus on Anastasia Ignatyeva's sturdy but elegant, innately musical heroine Marie. She skates like a dream. Bogdan Berezenko partners her with panache in duets that crown each of two acts. But then all of this spirited troupe's regular members perform with seeming effortlessness, including Fiona Kirk and Volodymyr Khodakivskyy, whose aerial turn as the Arabian couple is a literal and figurative high point.

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