Theatre is often at its best when fighting the odds, and that certainly proves to be the case with this adult festive offering from the burgeoning Turbine Theatre.
Even with a 50 percent capacity and the audience in masks, there is a sense of irrepressible – and much-needed – joy. Politically, the gloves are off. "Hello boys and girls," says Rufus Hound's lovable Buttons. "F*** the tories!", we chorus back.
Buttons is on furlough from his work at Baron Hardup's mansion; the arch-villain himself isn't here because of the rule of six. But we have got some delightfully queeny ugly sisters in the form of Scott Paige's Fanny and Oscar Conlon-Morrey's Vajayjay. "I was in the f***ing West End back in March", says the latter, grudgingly pushing a piece of set into place.
Predictably there are a plethora of jokes about the pandemic (including a song, "mask, gloves, tits, heels", to the tune of Lizzo's "Good As Hell"). But there is poignancy too, celebrating the determination of the theatre industry to survive this unprecedentedly challenging year. "This will be entertaining / No way I'm retraining", sings Daisy Wood Davies' Cinderella, to cheers.
The script, by Jodie Prenger and Neil Hurst, strikes the right balance between sauce and sentiment, and the laughs keep coming throughout, even if some of the one-liners are older than the President-Elect. And director Lizzy Connolly skillfully choreographs the action to keep the cast distanced, to the extent that you quickly stop thinking about it.
The musical numbers mostly hit the mark, particularly a witty take on "The Schuyler Sisters" from Hamilton and the requisite cheesy ballad by Cinderella and her Prince (Debbie Kurup doing a sultry interpretation of the Artist Formally Known As…), which is policed by Buttons with a 2m measuring stick.
Naturally, Cinderella must be home from the ball by 10 o'clock rather than midnight, while the happy ending has a twist that may or may not involve Sean Parkins' outrageously sassy Fairy Mother-F****n' Godmother. The Soho setting also provides plenty of scope for 18+ gags, as Cinderella naively wonders why she's being offered something called "Mudma".
The climactic singalong is another political broadside as we enthusiastically belt out "Boris, Go!". After nine months stuck in my house with two young children, I admit to finding the entire experience deeply cathartic. Along with a vaccine, this is just what the doctor ordered this Christmas. Let's just hope they have a chance to complete the run.