Gatehouse Theatre, Stafford, Tuesday 13th December, 2022
As soon as Fairy Fleur (Harriet Thorpe from Ab Fab) opens the show with a flash and a puff of smoke, we know we are in safe hands. Camp and cheerful, Thorpe takes charge and sets the tone for a hugely enjoyable evening. And the producers get their money’s worth out of her, having her reappear in several guises throughout the story.
Aya Elmansouri’s Cinderella is feisty and exuberant, not the downtrodden figure we might expect. Her singing voice is powerful and we take to her immediately. In fact, it’s an instantly lovable cast; Ricky K’s Buttons is a cheeky clown, adept at physical comedy; Tom Vaughan’s Prince Louis is handsome and clean cut and clearly having fun; Allan Jay’s Dandini is camply Scottish, and a serious challenge to Vaughan for the best singing voice in the show.
The scene-stealing Ugly Sisters, wonderfully named Tess & Trace, are unstintingly hilarious. Jason Sutton’s Trace is the more traditional panto dame while Will Peaco’s Tess is more of a modern drag queen. The pair work wonderfully together. Even their moments of cruelty bring laughter.
The traditional pantomime elements are here, executed perfectly. A slosh scene involving Button and the Sisters and a tub of face cream is all the funnier for its simplicity. And a Staffordshire Sasquatch provides the ‘It’s Behind You’ scene, including a chase around the auditorium.
The stage at the Gatehouse may not be very deep but the production company makes the most of it. Production values are high, and the horse-drawn carriage at the close of Act One is breath-taking — I would advise a puff of dry ice to better conceal the apparatus.
The well-worn story is served well by an excellent script by Julie Coombe, crackling with jokes, many of them aimed at the adults in the audience. There are many topical references promoting a greener lifestyle without holding these ideas up to ridicule e.g. Cinders and the Prince first meet during a protest to save some trees, the palace only serves Vegan food… It’s good to be included without being the butt of a joke!
Connor Fogel single-handedly handles the music. Most of the songs are disco classics, serving to give the show a certain unity of tone, with Rebecca Jeffrey’s energetic choreography being both retro and contemporary.
This is certainly a pantomime that gets everything right. It’s perfect entertainment, enthralling for the children and hilarious for the grown-ups.
I had a ball.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆