With the immediate financial security of its municipally-owned theatres confirmed, the festive season in Worthing is brighter than it has been for many years. Shining brightest of all is the Connaught Theatre’s very traditional Christmas pantomime offering, Cinderella.
Coronation Street and Bad Girls star Amanda Barrie shares top billing with A Touch of Frost’s John Lyons. They are supported by a strong set of principals, creating an ensemble piece in the very best pantomime tradition, and a 16-person chorus. They all work tirelessly together under the complicated choreographic direction of Clare Kennedy
Cinderella is played by Worthing’s own Naomi Slater who looks and acts every inch the downtrodden relative in act one and, following the spectacularly festive transformation scene, returns in act two as a very beautiful princesss-to-be. Displaying innocence and vulnerability, the only slight flaw in her otherwise perfect, performance is that her voice is a little too weak to compete with the volume of the band.
Her Prince Charming is Richard Hurst who works very hard to create the social awkwardness that is frequently associated with royalty. Only by trading identities with Dandini James Dangerfield can the Prince truly observe his public, and the short scene in which he helps with Dandini’s elocution is both clever and very funny.
The Ugly Sisters, Hannah and Montana, Roger Darrock and Stephen Howe are billed as one of Britain’s finest pairings and they certainly live up to their reputation.
Giving a performance that brilliantly mixes modern references for the youngsters to relate to with the more traditional audience participation elements, they totally dominate the stage with their over-the-top costumes and comic one-liners.
John Lyons exchanges the confines of television drama for the chance to entertain a live audience and, he too, does a fine job. His comic timing in the “ghost” scene is superb and, working together with Ian Jones as Buttons, they had the cast and audience alike in stitches. Jones lists his main comic influence as Lee Evans and, with his combination of hard work throughout the show, manic slapstick and gentle innuendo, it certainly shows.
Opening the show, and then linking the many scenes throughout, Amanda Barrie shows exactly why she has been at the top of her profession with such longevity. The audience warmed to her from the moment she, literally, exploded onto the stage. With a combination of innocence, charm and compassion she delivers her rhyming couplets with a comic timing that harks back to her days with the Carry On team.
Connaught Theatre pantomimes have always had a tremendous reputation and this year’s is probably their best ever. The scenery and costumes are dazzling, the almost balletic fox-hunt scene is the epitome of elegance, the cast obviously love what they are doing and the overall production is a fantastic festive treat for both young and old.