Tag Archives: Mark Aspinall

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

The Smallest Show on Earth

(reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 30 September)

Ah, but is it? I don’t think so. This stage version of the much-loved 1957 film has a total cast of 14 and a deceptively scaled-down set. But The Smallest Show on Earth integrates a host of Irving Berlin numbers, some ferociously energetic choreography by Lee Proud and a script and direction by Thom Southerland which captures the essence of the period without ever seeming to be a pastiche.

David Woodhead’s settings – complete with some highly ingenious location shifts, and costumes, beautifully detailed down to the seams in the stockings and skirt lengths – take us from London to provincial small-town in a fashion which mirrors the interior journey of the two main characters.

These are young husband and wife Matthew and Jean Spenser (Haydn Oakley and Laura Pitt-Pulford). He’s a would-be script-writer, she’s the rock for their relationship. The story concerns his inheritance from a dimly remembered great-uncle of the run-down Bijou Kinema, formerly a music-hall. Locally it’s usually referred to as “the fleapit”.

It is Pitt-Pulford who is the real star of the show, though she has a runner-up in the shape of Christina Bennington as Marlene Hardcastle, the thoroughly pleasant daughter of the thoroughly unpleasant Ethel and Albert Hardcastle (Ricky Butt and Philip Rham). Actually, she’s Mrs Hardcastle’s step-daughter, as this troublesome go-getter never ceases to remind everyone.

Then there’s Matthew Crow as the (very) junior solicitor Robin Carter, with twinkling toes and a delicious line in high camp and drag. The two other character parts are former silent-movie pianist, now box office “manager”, Mrs Fazackalee (Liza Goddard) and the cantankerous projectionist Percy Quill (Brian Capron). Capron grows Quill into a real human-being but, for me, there was an edge of eccentricity lacking in Goddard’s performance.

Mark Aspinall’s six-person band lurks right at the back of the stage, only to be revealed – and deservedly applauded – at the curtain-calls. The Mercury audience was genuinely enthusiastic. So, I suspect, will be audiences around the country when The Smallest Show on Earth launches itself on tour in 2016leaves Colchester for a national autumn tour.

The Smallest Show on Earth runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 10 October.

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Filed under Musicals, Reviews 2015