What joy, traditional pantomime is back at York at the Theatre Royal!
By Angie Millard
Cinderella is the most glittering and glamorous of pantomimes. The classic rags-to-riches story is an unfailing winner and Juliet Forster has added a modern twist with the help of a brilliant script written by Paul Hendy.
In this production, Cinders is a modern woman, a feminist who ‘only cooks because she wants to’ and hopes to marry a man who will respect her. Faye Campbell and Benjamin Lafayette manage their love affair with the minimum of sentimentality and it works. They leave that role to Buttons played by Max Fulham; he creates a credible and funny character who loves Cinderella but can’t resist making a joke to undermine his position. Max is a talented ventriloquist and he uses this skill with his monkey puppet to add another level of comedy. His energy carries many scenes and acts as a catalyst in others.
Andy Day, of Cbeebies fame, also plays a strong role as Dandini; M.C. in all things pertaining to the Prince. He works brilliantly with the audience, particularly in the Song Sheet and spooks in the forest sequence. He is also handsome and charming: an irresistible combination.
But what of the dame or dames in the show? I have rarely seen such a power house of unrelenting verbal gags and physical comedy. Robin Simpson and Paul Hawkyard burst on to the stage in a motor bike and sidecar as Mardy and Manky, ugly sisters and Punk grotesques. Their performances are a slick double act of perfect comic timing and audience provocation. The sequence where they choose a man from the audience to be ‘the most good-looking’ turns into a very funny running gag and the references to the ugly women of York out there are brilliantly conceived.
We know the tale well and expect iconic scenes: the pumpkin coach with mice as footmen, the Ball which Cinders must leave at midnight, the glass slipper which Cinderella loses in her flight from the palace are all there. What I was not prepared for was the flying horse which led the carriage skywards. The children were enchanted and I was too.
The choreography worked brilliantly to connect and enhance the scenes, I loved the Strictly Come Dancing and Robin Simpson’s representation of Claudia Winkleman blinded by her fringe. I should also mention the aerial act, Duo Fusion, who added a spectacular touch. It was also noteworthy that the cast worked with the live band of three musicians in a relaxed interconnecting manner.
My only regret is the characterisation of Fairy Godmother. I’m sure people loved Sarah Weatherbarrow’s malfunctioning personna and enjoyed her journey to acquire a wand but I missed the old-fashioned motherly, fully-qualified character.
Panto must and has made changes to its form over the years in order to survive. Forster and Hendry should be applauded as they lead the way in this year’s offering from YTR.
Finally, I must comment on the quality of the sets and costumes. Glittering snowy forests, sumptuous brocade and satin and as for the dames costumes..? I think I must leave you with a tantalizing final message. Go and see for yourselves.
Cinderella will be performed at York Theatre Royal until 2 January 2022. It is written by Paul Hendy and Directed by Juliet Forster. The Lighting Design is by Alexandra Stafford-Marshall, Set Design is by Phil Daniels and Michelle Marden, Choreographer is by Hayley Del Harrison, and Sound Design is by Mike Redley. The Costume Designer is Helga Wood and the Musical Director is Stephen ‘stretch’ Price.