Cinderella (Bristol)

”Cinderella” at the Hippodrome is sumptuous, dazzling, and little blue. Another bumper year for Bristol’s panto-goers

Louie Spence as Dandini in Cinderella
Louie Spence as Dandini in Cinderella

Bristol’s annual Christmas show is always a sumptuous affair, and you can rightfully expect high production values, glittering costumes and top-notch performances from a first rate cast of panto professionals. And, despite my reservations about the headline act for this year’s Cinderella, I am pleased to say that all is well in the world of pantomime and we have another rip-roaring triumph.

Although not completely won over by Louie Spence‘s high octane persona – he fairly burns up the stage with two hours of quite alarming mugging and convulsing, and break-neck speed campery like a galloping Frankie Howerd on acid – he is an undeniably talented performer, and has the kids howling with laughter with his cartoon-like antics. This is just as well as, in his role as Dandini, he dispenses with the customary double entendres, only occasionally bothering to obscure the decidedly adult comedy behind a second, more innocent meaning.

Thankfully, he is surrounded by a cast of theatrical stalwarts, who provide the balance needed to keep this show within more familiar territory: The appearance of the incomparable Andy Ford, having made the Hippodrome his panto home for the past four years, is as welcome and comforting as a bowl of clotted cream rice pudding on a cold December evening. As Buttons, Ford shows off the mastery of his craft with a gentle, beguiling humour and an easy way with children.

Leading man Andrew Derbyshire (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, We Will Rock You, Thriller), aptly cast as Prince Charming, stands out not only with a powerful singing voice, but true theatricality, which is so often lacking in this role, where current X Factor winners and reality TV stars are often cast to boost ticket sales. Liz Robertson (My Fair Lady, Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies) and David Roper (An Inspector Calls, TVs The Cuckoo Waltz and Coronation Street) provide gravitas and safe hands as Fairy Godmother and Baron respectively, and ex-Hear’Say member Suzanne Shaw proves her stage credentials as the fair Cinderella.

Graham Hoadly and Paul Burnham‘s ugly sisters are truly a sight to behold, with a dizzying array of shock frocks and knock out in their double-dame act, pulling off the neat trick of not being the most camp things in the show, and, along with Ford, getting to do most of the best panto business.

Directed by Chris Nelson, with choreography by Philip Joel, this is a slick production indeed. Eric Potts’ script is sharp, if a little blue in places, and the now obligatory 3D sequence adds a fantastic modern twist on the “its behind you routine” . With excellent support from the boys and girls of The Bristol School of Performing Arts, and under the musical direction of Malcolm Forbes-Peckham, this is another bumper year for Bristol panto-lovers, with more than enough to amuse the grown-ups as well as keeping the little ones happy for a couple of hours.

Cinderella at the Birstol Hippodrome plays until 5 January 2014

– Simon Cole