Several times watching this gleefully crude amalgam of adult pantomime and musical theatre obsessive’s wet dream was I reminded of the adage that you can’t polish a turd but you can roll it in glitter. Not that I’m suggesting there’s anything essentially excremental about Jodie Prenger and Neil Hurst’s concoction, or Lizzy Connolly’s go-for-broke staging, despite the sparkly toilets that are a crucial part of the set. However, it is undeniably a theatre-cabaret hybrid that sets a low bar for itself and then limbos joyfully underneath it, even while having individually impressive elements.
How much pleasure you’ll derive from a show that more resembles the performance task in an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race (of which one of the stars, the gorgeous if vaguely terrifying Veronica Green, is an alumna) or something that’d work equally well in the Two Brewers or at a venue on Manchester’s Canal Street, may depend on how much you’ve had to drink and your tolerance for potty-mouthed banter. An exhaustive working knowledge of musical theatre would also be very useful.
Co-author and national treasure-in-waiting Prenger certainly has one – her former Twitter moniker wasn’t ‘Musical Missy’ for nothing – and A Very Very Bad Cinderella is stuffed to the gills with quotes, show tunes with heavily adapted lyrics, and some pretty specific references (a parody of the title number from the current Jamie Lloyd Sunset is deliciously funny if you’ve seen it but won’t make much sense if you haven’t). There’s little attempt to make anything coherent out of these nods to musicals old and new, it’s just a barrage of verbal and melodic quotes, that sometimes blossom into (terrifically performed) full numbers, and occasionally hang in the air as the tumbleweeds roll.
Hamilton’s Schuyler Sisters trio here becomes about Cinders and her step-siblings anticipating the Prince’s upcoming ball, there’s a heavily doctored version of the title song from the ill-fated Lloyd Webber Cinderella musical and, perhaps most cleverly, Frank Loesser’s “Fugue For Tin Horns” from Guys and Dolls repointed as a graphic statement of sexual intent for the randy sisters. Broadway fans will enjoy a taste of the much-loved The Prom, still unseen on these shores except for the film version.
It all reaches its apotheosis with a sublime section where one of Cinderella’s less-than-demure stepsisters, the inventively named Vajayjay, describes her somewhat, er, colourful dating history using only the titles of tuners. It’s hilarious and Imelda Warren-Green makes it sound like an improvisation although I suspect it’s too slick for that to be the case.
Green and Warren-Green are a collective knockout as the stepsisters, the former a pneumatic, whip-smart glamazon with a mouth like a docker, the latter raising gormlessness to an art form as a slack-jawed, empathy-free princess who suggests what it might be like when the cameras on TOWIE stop rolling and the sambuca shots come out. May Tether’s Cinderella is no blushing flower either, instead a feisty, pragmatic heroine with genuine charm and a truly sensational singing voice. Keanna Bloomfield doubles up the Buttons character and the über-posh Prince with delightful comic eccentricity. West End favourite Oscar Conlon-Morrey also crops up as an increasingly disgruntled fairy godmother, but sadly only on screen.
A Very Very Bad Cinderella coasts on its own artful artlessness and the conviction that its target, admittedly fairly niche, audience will adore it. The fearless, funny performances elevate the basic writing, and the stellar vocals ensure that every number really lands, even in such a bewildering context. I spent the first couple of minutes thinking it was excruciating, but the whole thing grew on me until I came out at the end with a great big grin on my face. It’s certainly Very Very Camp.