Tag Archives: Cinderella

Strictly the Best

CINDERELLA

Birmingham Hippodrome, Wednesday 3rd January, 2018

 

It’s my final panto of the season and I’ve saved the biggest until last.  The Hippodrome’s annual extravaganza can be relied on to provide glitz and spectacle, almost to excess – Can you have too many sequins?  I think not.

In the title role, Suzanne Shaw is a spirited Cinderella, warm and friendly and assured – Alan McHugh’s script doesn’t give Cinders chance to demonstrate her goodness (and therefore worthiness for the Prince) – there is no gathering firewood for an old woman scene, for example; we have to take her goodness as hearsay…

Local girl and soul diva Beverley Knight is absolutely stunning as the Fairy Godmother – vocally, a dream, but she also enters into the panto spirit, playing on her Wolverhampton accent to comic effect.  A duet with one Grumbleweed (hilariously sabotaged by the other one) is a highlight of the evening.  Yes, the Grumbleweeds are back, having undergone something of a Sugababes change in line-up.  They bring old-school, variety club comedy to their roles as the Broker’s Men – their routine involving a treacherous padded stool remains funny no matter how many times you see it.

Hollyoaks heartthrob Danny Mac is perfectly cast as Prince Charming and, of course, there is plenty of opportunity to show off his Strictly skills.  Watching on the telly is one thing, but nothing beats the impact of seeing such dancing and showmanship demonstrated live.  Almost impossibly handsome, Mac could make a living as a Disney prince.  He is supported by Gary Watson’s camp and likeable Dandini, but Mac’s highlight is a dance-off with the Hippodrome’s resident funny man, Matt Slack, back for his umpteenth year in a row.

Slack is in his element as Buttons.  Hardly what you might call a subtle performer, he manages to wring a little pathos into Buttons’s unrequited love for Cinders, and his routine with children volunteers from the audience shows off his skills and tests his professionalism.  The show affords him chance to rattle off innuendo (there’s a snack-related scene and one in which he lip-synchs to a host of song clips) and we know we’re in safe hands for a good laugh.  There is one moment, however, when the wheels almost come off.  It is usually the prerogative of the villain to insult the audience – otherwise, any interplay with individuals is usually good-natured and cheeky.  Here though, Slack turns a video camera on the crowd, projecting faces onto a screen for all to see.  It’s excruciatingly uncomfortable and unnecessary, and more to do with Theatre of Cruelty than pantomime.  That part aside, this is a marvellously entertaining production.

Here the Ugly Sisters are vicious drag queens: Voluptua (a deadpan Ceri Dupree) and Verucca (a gurning David Dale) swan around in ridiculously OTT outfits, spouting barbed remarks, many of them off-colour.  It’s wonderful stuff but their nastiness is in keeping with the needs of the plot: their bullying of Cinderella loses none of its cruelty, much as we enjoy their bitchiness.

The transformation scene that closes the first act is splendid on the grand scale but it is the dancing and the old-fashioned humour that really make this show sparkle, with Beverley Knight and Danny Mac bringing the star quality to a solid and skillful cast.

Cinderella

Having a ball: Suzanne Shaw and Danny Mac

 


Magic and Mess make for success

CINDERELLA

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Friday 1st December, 2017

 

Writer, director and jovial genius Iain Lauchlan is back at the Belgrade for another triumphant year with a winning pantomime that blends traditional with new elements.

Oddly, it gets off to something of an underwhelming start, with Fairy Godmother (Maggie Robson) springing on and giving us some sub-Disney waffle about dreams.  What, no rhyming couplets?  She introduces us to our heroine straight away – a winsome Alice Rose Fletcher, looking every inch the part and with a sweet singing voice.  This is a Cinderella we can take to right away, but her song is somewhat wistful and reflective, and not really an opening number.  Energy levels crank up when the chorus of villagers pour on – and we’re off at last!

The ugly sisters, Dyspepsia (Lauchlan in his element, it appears) and Listeria ( an equally excellent Greg Powrie) are a superb double act.  Ostensibly the villains, they are too enjoyable to be bad.  The crux of villainy in this version is found in Cinderella’s stepmother (Maggie Robson, doubling, and having more to get her teeth into), a delightful snarling diva.

Adding to the fun – shovelling it on – is Craig Hollingsworth as Buttons.  A natural crowd-pleaser, Hollingsworth is a cheeky chappie, a quick wit with impeccable timing.  His scenes with the sisters are the comic highlights of the show.  An extended slosh scene involving waxing strips and fake tanning equipment is relentlessly funny in an old-school way.  Slapstick still works.

An iconic scene we don’t get is Buttons trying to cheer up Cinderella when she can’t go to the ball.  Cut because of running times, I suspect, but Hollingsworth gives us hints of the pathos that is an essential part of the Buttons character.

In this performance, a charming Vicky Field plays Prince Charming – Lauchlan gives us two principal boys to balance the two dames – and Letitia Hector gives us an elegant and full-throated Dandini.  In panto, no one bats an eyelid about cross-dressing and gender and blind casting.  Everyone is accepted.  Any joshing is good-natured.

From the chorus there is strong support from Lashane Williams and Vicki Stevenson in several featured moments, but undoubtedly this is the Ugly Sisters & Buttons show, and we don’t mind that at all.

There are moments of wonder – the transformation scene is straightforward in its execution but still works its magic on the children – plenty of audience participation, with some individuals being ‘volunteered’ to prove themselves good sports – and the time-honoured story still comes through.  There is something about Cinderella that strikes a chord with everyone: the worthy underdog whisked away from servitude; but it’s more than a lottery win.  Cinderella’s generosity of spirit is what sees her through.

One final point: I look around the stalls and from what I can see, the people of Coventry have turned out from all corners.  It’s quite simply the most diverse audience I’ve seen at a pantomime.  And everyone’s enjoying this peculiarly British tradition and having a great night at the theatre, and I think this is the kind of Britain I want to live in.  Inclusive, good-natured and friendly.  Well done, the Belgrade!

Greg Powrie, Iain Lauchlan and Craig Hollingsworth in Cinderella - Credit Robert Day (2)

Greg Powrie, Iain Lauchlan and Craig Hollingsworth messing about (Photo: Robert Day)

 


Perfect Fit

CINDERELLA

Regent Theatre, Stoke on Trent, Wednesday 28th December, 2016

 

Seemingly a permanent fixture for the Regent’s annual pantomime, the dream team double act of local hero Jonathan Wilkes and Welsh actor Christian Patterson are back with one of their best efforts in years.  Appearing as one of the ugly sisters, Patterson has also written the script – a faithful, fast-moving and above all funny version that allows traditional routines, topical references and a rate of one-liners per minute that no other show this year can match.

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Wilkes, on his home turf, can do no wrong, but he does not rest on his laurels, working tirelessly (This year my name is Buttons) to ensure everyone has a great time.  His first entrance, purportedly in a cage borne by a gorilla, shows a level of self-awareness and mockery that endears him from the off: “I call him Robbie; he carries me everywhere.”  Wilkes has a cheeky stage persona, excellent comic timing and also a good, old-fashioned pop singer’s voice that is a treat to hear.

In the title role is newcomer Finley Guy, a young performer who exudes star quality.  Her Cinders is easily a match for the more seasoned professionals and she is more than able to carry scenes on her own.  Her singing voice is strong and pleasant, making her one of the best I’ve seen in the role.  Similarly, Owen Broughton’s Prince Charming makes a striking impression.  Ian Stroughair’s Dandini is a wildly camp, flamboyant gay man but it is pleasing that his sexuality is not the butt (ha!) of any jokes – he is included and accepted, and that is refreshing.  Michael Geary is fun as a wild-haired Baron Hardup who finally asserts himself, and Hannah Potts brings rhymes and giggles as a bubbly Fairy Cupcake – the transformation of Cinders from rags to ballgown is truly breath-taking and magical, right before our very eyes.

Simon Nehan pairs up with Patterson as the other sister, a villainous pair who also provide much of the laughter.  The comic timing is impeccable – we love to hate them.  Routines like Busy Bee and The 12 Days of Christmas are always hilarious when tackled by such skilled performers – youngsters in the audience who may not have seen them before are just as tickled as those of us who know what’s coming.

The dancers, choreographed by Nikki Wilkes, are excellent; elegantly acrobatic, the boys especially impress.  Clearly, along with Guy and Broughton, students at the Wilkes Academy are of the highest calibre.

A glittering glut of gags and wonder, this Cinderella satisfies on every count.  Wilkes and Patterson have triumphed again!

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Rising star: Finley Guy as Cinderella

 

 


Rats to Riches

CINDERELLA

Derby Theatre, Monday 7th December, 2015

 

There are over 2,000 versions of this story, some of them pre-date the Bible. Something about it strikes chords within our psyche. Perhaps it’s because it’s a story of survival. Perhaps it’s the promise of reward in the ‘happy ever after’. Either way, we never seem to tire of it and at this time of year, it’s ripe for another retelling.

Playwright Mike Kenny takes the fresh approach of having his version told and enacted by a pack of rats in the kitchen in which Cinderella suffers so much of her grief at the loss of her parents and bullying at the hands of her stepsisters. The rats narrate, sing, and play instruments and are an instantly likeable lot in their ragged costumes. Their rodent nature comes from movements rather than appearance – they could be any of society’s outcasts. The script is both funny and poetic, meeting our expectations of the well-known plot while giving a new slant, a rat’s-eye view.

The original songs by Ivan Stott are irresistibly catchy, adding to the humour: there’s a nod to Disney’s Ev’rybody Wants To Be A Cat with Nobody Wants To Be A Rat but it’s not all jolly japery. There is a kind of sweet melancholy to some of the songs. Cinderella (Esme Sears) has a plaintive number that almost breaks your heart. Beautifully sung. Sears is the only black cast member, the skivvy, the victim of oppression – this adds another resonance to the piece that is perhaps unintended. Your heart goes out to her and we see the long-term effects of bullying: the rock-bottom self-esteem and lack of self-worth. It’s no wonder this Cinders feels an affinity with vermin.

Stephanie Rutherford and Chris Lindon are the ugly stepsisters, This Un and That Un – it’s their appalling conduct that makes them undesirable – and, of course, a lot of fun. Jake Waring is appealing as a gauche, socially awkward Prince.

Tim Heywood’s costumes are bright and colourful, with a hint of the dressing-up box to them, while Nettie Scriven’s set, with its illuminated washing lines, has a picture book quality. Sarah Brigham’s direction gets the tone spot on throughout. The dynamics and energy levels are handled masterfully – we are reminded it’s only a story but we are drawn right in and made to care. This is a Cinderella that plays on our imaginations through storytelling rather than spectacle, using the transformative power of narrative theatre instead of special effects to work its magic. It’s a lovely, funny, charming, touching and satisfying production that transfixes and delights children and adults alike.

Cinderella

 


Panto Perfection

CINDERELLA

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 9th December, 2014

 

The Grand’s pantomime this year is the classic Cinderella and I have to say it’s perfect.

Julian Clary heads the cast, so to speak, not in the title role but as the Prince’s right hand man, Dandini in a series of evermore elaborate outfits.  Clary’s act is a good fit for panto: the relentless innuendo (he slips one in every other minute, they come thick and fast, etc…) and the mocking of the grown-ups in the audience – these have been panto staples for centuries.

But here’s what’s magic about this production: no single element or personality is allowed to dominate.  This is not merely a vehicle for Clary to sell his hilarious wares.  Everything blends to create a perfect piece of entertainment – I’ve used the P word twice now and will do again before this review is over.

There is spectacle and special effects, singing and dancing and slapstick – everything you’d expect, and it all works in concert to dazzling and highly entertaining effect.

Niki Evans, flying in on a crescent moon, as the Fairy Godmother is clearly in her element.  She is afforded opportunities to show off her belter of a pop-star voice and practically twinkles with panto charm.  Her native Black Country accent adds comedy and bathos to some of her more outlandish declamations.  Absolutely delightful.

Joe Tracini (latterly ‘Dennis’ off of Hollyoaks) is an irrepressible and lovable Buttons, demonstrating an impressive range of skills from slapstick to magic tricks to singing… The man is a great ball of showbiz and thoroughly endearing.  His knockabout japes are the perfect (there I go again) foil for Clary’s sniper-like sarcasm and double entendres.

Ben Stock and Tony Jackson are the Ugly Sisters – a wickedly funny, bitchy pair of drag queens and – here’s the test of the Ugly Sisters – they play the invitation-tearing scene with exquisite evil.  Their bullying elicits genuine gasps from the kiddies in the audience, and is all the more effective thanks to a charming and vivacious portrayal of Cinderella herself by Alice Barker.

Speaking of Charming, Will Richardson is the dashing Prince.  For the most part he’s the ‘straight man’ to Julian Clary, but when we get to the ballroom scene, his duet with Alice Barker is lovely.  Director Andrew Lynford knows when to turn on the romance – indeed, he gives all aspects of the story and all the ingredients of pantomime time to come to the fore when necessary.  (Have I mentioned yet that this show is perfect?)

Iain Stuart Robertson is an affable Baron Hardup, and Ian Gledhill’s Lord Chamberlain shows what can be achieved by a strong character actor in a minor role.  With a chorus of dancers, a troupe of babes and a small but hardworking band (under the musical direction of David Lane), energy fills the auditorium.  I had such a good time.

In all honesty, I can’t fault the production.  If you’re looking for traditional fare for your seasonal entertainment , you won’t go wrong with this one.

Magic.

Julian Clary as Dandini


Stoked!

CINDERELLA

Regent Theatre, Stoke on Trent, Thursday 3rd January, 2013

A few months ago, I attended the final of Stoke’s Top Talent, a local contest for local people.  The winner, Carrie-Ann Williams, won a part in the pantomime.  Not just a walk-on and five minutes in the spotlight but a fully integrated role.  And so, there she is, opening the show as the Fairy Godmother, speaking in thankless rhyming couplets and wafting her wand about.  Although still studying, Williams fits into the cast of professionals seamlessly.  She gets to extend her acting experience, when the Fairy Godmother goes in disguise as an old beggar woman, searching for firewood, but, of course, she is also allowed to do what she does best and show us why she, rightfully won the talent contest.  She closes the first act with her rendition of Nessun Dorma; this is no less incongruous than some of the pop songs we are subjected to, and, when the flying horse lifts Cinderella’s carriage out of the dry ice and the aria surges to its climax, it is truly spine-tingling.  It is heartening to see the contest organisers following through on their promise.

The panto belongs to Jonathan Wilkes, local hero.  He co-directs as well as dominating the action as Buttons; camp and cheeky bordering on puerile, Wilkes is an energetic presence, thoroughly at home in this genre and, indeed, this venue.  He can do no wrong with this crowd and it is easy to see why.  Tall, good-looking with a pleasant, old school pop-singer voice, Wilkes rules the roost.

He is supported by his co-director Christian Patterson as ugly sister Stacey – these two are clearly on the same wavelength and are enjoying themselves as much as the audience – and Torchwood’s Kai Owen as Nessa, Stacey’s equally obnoxious sibling.  As you’d expect the costumes and the banter are outrageous.  There is an emphasis on toilet humour and physical comedy, peppered with local namedropping and pop culture references.  It’s knockabout fun, perhaps slapdash on the surface, but Wilkes and Patterson know exactly what they’re doing.

Eric Potts’s script focuses on the comedy.  The jokes are quick fire and relentless, old, new, borrowed and blue, but Potts is also an advocate of the traditional pantomime routines, and so we get “Who’s in first” and “Busy Bee, Busy Bee” – the first a dazzling example of cross-talk, the second hilarious slapstick that still works brilliantly.

Rebecca Lisewski’s Cinderella is confidant rather than hard-done by, with a strong singing voice.  Her duets with Jonathan Bremner’s dashing Prince Charming blend their voices well, although I found the choice of Katy Perry’s Firework a little jarring. I guess I’ve never felt like a plastic bag.

Jamie Tyler’s Dandini is an enthusiastic, upper-class twit, mugging and girning like a cartoon character, keeping the energy levels high in scenes that are basically exposition and Ian Redford’s Baron Hardup is a bumbling drunkard, ably supporting the shenanigans – he could be given more to do.

The show is thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, managing to be up-to-date and traditional at the same time.  Of all I have seen this season, this panto has the strongest local feel, which is encouraging to see in a venue that is part of a national chain.  Wilkes, Patterson and Potts deliver the goods and pack the house.  The management must be stoked.

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Holiday Camp

CINDERELLA

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.

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A Brush with Greatness

CINDERELLA
Birmingham Hippodrome, Wednesday 21st December, 2011

The Hippodrome prides itself on staging the country’s biggest and most lavish pantomime in the country and this year is no exception. The production values are astounding in this glitzy show that mixes technical wizardry with star quality.

The big names on the poster this year are: Brian Conley as a moon-walking, water-pistolling, sing-a-long-ing, cheeky-faced Buttons – he works the crowd extremely well and it’s a big room to work; making her panto debut is the glamorous Lynda Bellingham as the Fairy Godmother – she is given plenty to do in what can be an incidental role and her lines are ripe with innuendo; but while Conley is spouting references to Timmy Mallett and the Crazy Frog, the funniest and most up-to-date material comes from Basil Brush! He moves around like a miniature, furry Davros, singing and dancing and interacting with the crowd. The operator in the box must be knackered by the end. Basil Brush is “living” proof that acts who have been around a long time can still appeal, keeping up with the times without changing the essence of what made him great in the first place. Other old-school acts could learn a lot from the little puppet with the posh voice. It is marvellous to see today’s children taking Basil to their hearts just as it is wonderful to see them being enthralled by the magic of theatre and hearing them laughing their little heads off throughout the show.

What you may think are the main characters, Cinderella and Prince Charming, are sidelined somewhat and the plot takes quite a while to get going as Conley and Bellingham dominate proceedings from the outset. This means that minor role, Dandini, is pushed out to become almost irrelevant – the business of swapping identity with the Prince is given lip service but never capitalised on. Ugly sisters, Kelly and Tulisa (Martin Ramsdin and David Robbins) have more muscle (in more than one sense). Their outfits, which I am given to believe were mainly their own design and manufacture, are outlandish and colourful, matched by their rapport and characterisations. The scene in which they force Cinderella to tear up her invitation to the ball remains one of the most dramatic and powerful moments in all panto.

So, the show takes a few detours but when the plot gets going, the Hippodrome does it very well indeed. The transformation scene is fast and flashy, ending the first act with pyrotechnics and a flying horse. The second act is more traditional in its structure; at the ball, Conley performs an outrageously funny routine involving a violin and an errant finger but the Prince and Cinders are allowed their time in the spotlight too. It is very satisfying to see the tried-and-tested routines and stage business played out so well, along with the new ingredients (as long as they don’t subvert the genre or hold up proceedings).

I am uncomfortable with live animals on stage. However enchanting their appearance and antics and no matter how kindly they may be treated, it doesn’t sit well with me to see them performing tricks in a manner outside their natural behaviour. Adults and children alike were entranced but this overly sensitive veggie prefers not to see that kind of thing.

Preferable was Conley’s interaction with kids from the audience who were brought onto the stage for questions and a giggly rendition of Old Macdonald Had A Farm. In fact, interplay with the audience as a whole was very strong. Given the scale of the auditorium, it requires a certain type of performer to keep everyone happy. Conley certainly manages that and it is a shame his kind of act is no longer fashionable in these days of TOWIE and endless dredges for “talent”. Conley needs a vehicle, and I don’t mean Buttons’s flying motorcycle, to get him back on the telly. As long as he steers clear of the schmaltzy crooning, which veers dangerously close to pub-singing, I would tune in.

For me though the evening belonged to Basil Brush. I’m glad to see he’s keeping his hand in.