Cinderella (Richmond Theatre)
Hayley Mills stars in Richmond's annual pantomime
In the grand scheme of things, Richmond and Wimbledon aren't that far from each other, which makes it all the more surprising that this year their pantos have simply been swapped around. Cinderella opened last year in Wimbledon starring Dallas actress Linda Gray. Now it's been shunted over to Richmond – with a mostly new cast (although father-son actors Matthew Kelly and Matt Rixon are back to play the ugly sisters), but basically there's the same jokes, costumes and surprises. It feels like a distinctly cynical move.
But for those of you who missed this show at Wimbledon last year, and therefore won't feel a disorientating sense of déjà vu, Richmond's Cinderella is, actually, a fair amount of fun. That's mainly due to the star appearance. Where last year Gray was wooden, this year they've got the veteran British actress Hayley Mills as the fairy godmother and she is so much better than Gray. In her clipped, clear, RP tones she's game for anything and balances just the right amount of charm and humour. She's also all over the tunes. It's clear she's a total pro.
As well as Mills, one of the other saving graces is Rhiannon Chesterman as Cinderella, who has a strong voice – built for the pop songs (Kool and the Gang's "Celebration"; "Thinking Out Loud" by Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk"). Elsewhere, CBeebies' Chris Jarvis gets the comedy right as Buttons – aiming nicely to the adults (‘even the snowman is stiff!') whilst also entertaining the kids. Kelly and Rixon roll out exactly the same turn they did last year: they are brilliantly grotesque, pouting twins. But though they are delivering the same jokes, they still manage to give their performance a smidgen of spontaneity.
But where the likes of the Lyric Hammersmith and Hackney Empire's smart panto scripts impress and their designs surprise, this Cinderella is cardboard cutout, high-end, sparkle-covered gloss. Several of the choreographed sequences make the cast look like a Simon Cowell manufactured pop group and the audience participation is a rushed token gesture. It does what it needs to, but not much more. There's even an exceptionally weird ghost section that they've reprised from last year, which sits so oddly it's clear they have shoved it in just to flesh out the run time to around two hours.
But let's be clear, panto is about a handful of things: the shouting, the sing-a-longs, the surprises, the sparkle and the jokes, and Cinderella has enough of all these to entertain any little prince or princess.
Cinderella runs at the Richmond Theatre until 10 January.