You can tweak a traditional pantomime
stories until a well-shaped favourite seems to be almost deformed. On
the other hand, you can refresh it with just the right proportion of
novelties. So Phil Dale's take on Cinderella
makes the Wicked Stepmother into the evil sister of the Fairy
Godmother; we meet Prince Charming's father, the King of France; and
Cinderella goes to the ball... I won't spoil the effect by telling
you the exact mode of conveyance, but silver coaches and miniature
ponies certainly aren't involved.
As is only proper, we begin in
Fairyland with the initial confrontation between the forces of good
and evil setting out the battleground on which the heroine's apparently so-hopeless search for happiness will be played out. Then
we're in Pais, where a restless Prince Charming (Ben Hawkins) has
returned from oversea travel (and, one gathers, also a considerable
sowing of the proverbial wild oats). So the tension to the build-up
to the first proper appearance of the title character is considerable.
When we meet Cinderella in the
forest, Duncan Rutherford's score gives Grace Wheeler a charming
duet with some feathered friends, and we warm immediately to her
personality. Back at Hardup Hall, her Stepmother (Jeanne Stacey)
eggs on as frightful and fractious a pair of Ugly Sisters as you
would hope never to encounter on a dark night. Jay Brown's Fatima
(who lives up to the first syllable of her name) and Jack Downey's
lankily vicious Fanny are enough to give anyone unfortunate enough to
have to share a home with them nightmares.
Even, one feels, Daniel James'
chirpy Buttons. James gets on the audience's right side from his firs
entrance and turns what was, at the performance I saw, a wardrobe
malfunction into a comedy routine in its own right. On the subject of
comedy routines, the Brown-Downey variation of The Great
British Bake-Off is self-raising in its own right. Our old
friend "The twelve days of Christmas" later makes an
appearance in send-up guise.
Somehow the stage at the Rhodes Centre
seems to have expanded since last year's pantomime and this allows
for some effective puppetry as well as Katie Barker-Dale's
attractive choreography. Julia Dale's costumes (is this a family
affair, I wonder?) look fresh and are attractively coloured.
Reuben Lemer and Phil Childs are
the hard-working musicians.