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Cinderella

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 5 December)

 

This is probably the favourite pantomime story, which raises high empectations in its audiences. The magic trick is to blend the familiar, much-loved rags-to-riches story with enough variations to spice it up while never smothering its essence. Andrew Pollard’s script in Martin Berry’s production manages to achieve just that balance.

The Queen’s Theatre tradition of using actor-musicians comes into its own – Natasha Lewis’ Cinderella must be the only trombone-playing one  in this year’s national crop. Jonathan Charles’ Dandini is a wandering fiddle-player, taken on by Jamie Noar’s Prince Charming, desperately trying to disentangle himself from his father’s plans for his future.

No Baron Hardup in this version. Rather, we have his spiteful widow (Georgina Field) keeping her two chip-off-the-matriachal-block daughters Miley (Simon Pontin) and Kylie (Carl Patrick) very much under her sharp-nailed thumb. No wonder the household is reduced to a single servant, Buttons (Alex Tomkins), who only stays because of Cinderella.

Mark Walters has designed a deceptively sumptuous set and costumes in a vaguely late 18th century style. Joshua Good man is the hard-working musical director, joined in the pit by Al Twist and Sarah Workman, and the on-stage cast. Field has a commanding way with a saxaphone, even when Liz Marsh’s choeography keeps her feet fully employed.

That all-important wow! factor comes also from Etisyai Philip’s Fairy Godmother, who manipulates the whole story, including Cinderella’s swan-drawn carriage as she leaves for the ball. Sherry Coenen’s lighting adds to the magical impression. Highlights include a well-handled rejection scene for Buttons and Cinderella, to which both of them bring the right degree of sincerity.

Well-loved gag scenes also make their appearnace, including the endless stocking and false foot in the slipper trying-on episode, Cinderella being made totear up her coveted invitation to the ball (by her step-mother, rather than step-sisters here) and locking her in a chest (even less comfortable than the usual cellar) in the attempt to hide her from her questing prince.

Cinderella runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 14 January. Check the theatre’s website (queens-theatre.co.uk) for performance times.

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Filed under Pantomimes & other seasonal shows, Reviews 2016

Cinderella

(reviewed at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend on 15 December 2015)

It’s billed as the greatest pantomime of them all, but Kathryn Rooney’s production of Cinderella for the Cliffs Pavilion in Southend ticks far too many of the wrong boxes. In its favour are the ugly sisters (David Robbins as Claudia and Martin Ramsdin as Kate). Their costumes are fantastic, their nastiness is eminently booable and Ramsdin’s false nose deserves a credit to itself.

Lauren Hall makes a petite and very charming Cinders; her Prince Charming is the strong-voiced Matthew Goodgame with Steve Lees as Dandini. Lesley Joseph, from her first entrance perched on a glittering half-moon to her relationship with Cinderella is also worth watching; you can believe in her power to make things happen. The musical numbers go with a swing with the band under Mark Aspinall.

The settings by Ian Westbrook are new for this theatre, Cinderella goes to the ball drawn by real white ponies and Elliot Nixon has devised some pretty choreography for the dancing ensemble and the children. So far, so good, but (and it’s a very big but) the story is reduced to a skeleton and the dominant (not to say domineering) presence of Brain Conley as Buttons takes over.

I was irresistibly reminded of those dire so-called pantomimes in the doldrum days of the late 60s and early 70s when a sequence of speciality acts was cobbled onto one of the traditional stories. I’m sure that Conley has an enormous following, but this extended and selfish variety turn should really have been called Buttons, not Cinderella.

Cinderella runs at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend until 10 January.

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Filed under Pantomimes & seasonal shows, Reviews 2015

Cinderella

(reviewed at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge on 8 December 2015)

It my be one of the priciest Christmas shows on offer, but this year’s Cambridge Arts Theatre Cinderella gives you good value for your money. The script is by Al Morley and Matt Crosby and is directed by David Grindley with choreography by Kevan Allen, costume design by Sue Simmerling and musical direction by John Donovan.

The story follows the traditional path, with a strong pair of almost look-alike Principal Boys in the shape of Laura Barton’s Prince Charming and Jennifer Potts’ Dandini. Both have strong voices as well as playing with just the right source of masculine conviction; you can believe in their heir-to-the-throne and adopted-brother relationship.

Rosemary Ashe makes an engaging Fairy Godmother, a gold-glittering Edna Everage-spectacled fey on the brink of retirement, with a no-nonsense attitude to her magic and the operatically trained voice to go with it. Suzie Mathers is the sweet-voiced, pretty and gentle-natured heroine, though her kitchen-scene dismissal of the love declaration by Steven Butler’s Dandini suggests a streak of ruthlessness.

Her step-sisters are Jusin-Lee Jones (taking over from an indisposed Jonathan D Ellis) as Kim and Daniel Goode as Khloé. Jones is the tall, spiky one (with the longest legs in the business) while Goode plays the tubby would-be-beauty; both are thoroughly nasty, which is just as they should be. Butler, for my taste, never quite achieved the right degree of rapport with the audience which Buttons needs to have. Richard Earl is suitably harassed as Baron Hardup.

Both the adult dancers and the juvenile ones do justice to Allen’s choreography and look well in the colourful palette of Simmerling’s costumes. Cinderella goes to the ball in a shimmer of turquoise crinoline, riding in a coach drawn into the skies by a white winged Pegasus. The effect earned a well-deserved cheer. Magic, after all, is what a pantomime should give its audience – and this one succeeds.

Cinderella runs at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge until 17 |January.

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Filed under Pantomimes & seasonal shows, Reviews 2015