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Cinderella (Watford, Palace Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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It’s obvious that this isn’t going to be quite as straight-forward a telling of the tale of Cinderella as some even before the glittering drop curtain rises. The footlights have a frieze of pumpkins and when Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother (Laura Doddington) enters (most properly from stage right) she’s swathed in a gardening gown and pushing a wheelbarrow. A very organic, environmentally-aware sort of fay who reveals herself in a glittering pumpkin-themed dress.

All the familiar pantomime characters are there, but the script by Joanna Read and Stuart Thomas script, the designs of Cleo Pettitt and Kate Saxon’s production give it all a further twist in a contemporary direction. Prince Charming is played by the young Black actor Daniel Norford with just the right amount of panache; he has a good singing voice as well. Cinderella herself is Bethan Walker, a feisty lass when pushed to it and she also has a fine singing voice. The trio of nasties contrast beautifully, though that’s probably not the right word in this context – Michele Moran revelling in her split skirts and horned hairstyle as the Stepmother, Peter Holdway teetering in the skinniest and sharpest of blue veins as Gorganzola and Donovan F Blackwood oozing Caribbean bonhomie as Dolcelatte, another big cheese very much on the turn.

Buttons is Andrew Macklin, bringing the audience on-side as he shows how his real love for Cinderella can translate into brotherly affection. Eugene McCoy is Dandini, the equerry with all the dud jobs. I liked the way that Saxon’s production plays with the usual set pieces – not one ghostly visitor to the sisters’ bedroom but a whole coven of them; the slapstick of the cooking scene shared between the stepsisters, the modern ballroom scene and the peacock-drawn coach foreshadowed by the drop curtain.

John Banister’s musical direction uses up-to-the-moment songs, easily recognised by the youngsters in the audience. There’s a nice seasonal medley after the last scene’s traditional walk-down. It’s a show for all ages with the variations keeping we older ones intrigued; they decorate rather than deform the basic story-line, so that the children never feel led astray from the familiar.

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