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Cinderella (Colchester, Mercury Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Janice Dunn has both written and directed this year’s Mercury Theatre pantomime. It’s Cinderella – a show which is almost recession-proof. This version has some extremely nice touches and allows for a back-story as well.

We first meet Ella as a little girl with no mother or family except for her grieving father. Naturally she wishes for a mother and sisters – but, as her Fairy Godmother explains, you should be very careful what you wish for. In this instance it’s an unthinking step-mother and a brace of half-sisters, who are off elsewhere being “finished”. In the meantime Hardup Hall has become a not-very-successful ski lodge and the king’s taxes (even though his son is now regent) are adding to Baron Hardup’s problems.

The dialogue is very good at establishing relationships, such as the loving one between Cinderella and her father, the getting-along-together-all-right one between the baron and Dame Spatula, the slightly edgy one between Prince Charming and Dandini and the firm friendship between Cinderella and Buttons. Which is not to mention the thorough-going unpleasantness of that between sisters Ratula and Flatula with just about everyone – but especially with Cinderella.

A cast of mainly theatre company regulars make the most of it. Elizabeth Brown is a touching heroine with a mind as well as a heart and the tongue to express the feelings of both. The sisters – Shuna Snow as sharp-voiced lanky Ratula and Christine Absalom as a distinctly uncuddly Flatula revel in it all, egging the audience on to even more boos and hisses at every nasty twist and turn. Tim Treslove as Spatula deliberately underplays any nasty aspects; you can believe that there’s a real chance of second-time-round happiness with Roger Delves-Broughton’s Baron – once her daughters have once more been parcelled off and sent marked “no return”.

Clare Humphrey as the Fairy Godmother has a good voice and the stage presence needed to command the plot. Ian Kendall makes Prince Charming well-meaning and sufficiently willing to learn by his mistakes to deserve the happy ending. Buttons, as played by Dale Superville, is a cheerful all-round helper; you can believe that he loves Cinderella and that he has the strength of character to let that love mature into genuine friendship. Daniel Tawse suggests that Dandini has as-yet undiscovered talents.

It’s all designed by Sally Howard with some engaging touches – the ski lodge has animated wall-mounted trophy animals and Cinderella goes to the ball in a coach pulled by reindeer. Graeme Du Fresne is the musical director, having great fun with Spatula’s “Copacabana” number and the song-sheet audience participation. The choreographer is Charlie Morgan.

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