Malvern Theatres, Monday 17th December, 2012
The ‘name’ in this year’s Malvern panto is Hi-de-Hi star Ruth Madoc, appearing in a puff of smoke as the Fairy Godmother. Without a baddie to banter with, she has to open the show on her own, acting as a warm-up. Madoc’s commanding voice and pleasant manner set the tone for this energetic and irresistible production that has more in the way of stimuius/response than B F Skinner’s entire career. The brief appearance of her yellow coat and xylophone got a warm reception from the older members of the audience, me included.
Emma Nowell’s Cinderella is a spirited, good-hearted lass and even though her stepsisters still wipe the floor with her, she presents a likeable character and not just a cipher. Her singing voice is particularly strong. Jamie Rickers as Buttons is relentless in his pursuit of audience participation. His entrance, complete with a tumble into the orchestra pit, is hilarious. He is a very physical, knockabout performer and handles the traditional patter extremely well. Some of the pop culture references could do with updating. We don’t really need Little Britain catchphrases, do we?
The ugly sisters, Bobbie Kent and Anthony West, have an impressive range of ridiculous outfits that accentuate the height difference between the two. Their sardonic, deadpan bitchiness is hilarious – their evil natures bubbling over in a flash.
The handling of Prince Charming and Dandini was a breath of fresh air. These scenes can be tepid but this pairing (Owen Thompson and Bobby Windebank) given funny lines and a tendency to break out into the ubiquitous ‘Gangnam Style’ at any random moment, really liven up the show. They do a lovely swing version of ‘Me and My Shadow’ in contrast to the pop songs and ballads that dominate the rest of the score.
The production oozes tradition – there is a “It’s Behind You” scene with a ghost for no apparent reason other than it’s such fun. The transformation scene is old school but effective. I don’t like to see live animals being used for entertainment purposes; the real live Shetland ponies that appeared to pull the coach gave me the only moment of discomfort of the evening.
Director Scott Ritchie pushes all the right buttons, so to speak. I particularly enjoyed a silent movie sequence to depict a thwarted fox hunt, and the way the relationship between Cinders and the Prince is not taken seriously – until it matters. Their duet (from High School Musical 3, I believe) at the ball is perfectly romantic and beautifully sung; you really don’t want the clock to strike midnight and interrupt them. Alastair Bull’s choreography is superb. The second act opener, “Vogue”, is stunning.
The energetic dancing villagers (Simon Bolland, Katie Hale, Ellie Keene, Dylan Mason, Jasmine Sheringham, and Isla Thomson) are a tight ensemble. There is something quirky and essentially pantomimic about seeing contemporary choreography and moves being busted in those fairytale costumes.
All in all, the show is a delight and as camp as Christmas, delivered by skilled performers who can expertly handle the form. Head for the (Malvern) hills and have yourself a ball.