Cinderella ~ Mitchell Arts Centre

Star rating: ****

Mitchell Arts Centre is playing host to a two week run of the popular fairy tale classic, Cinderella, this Christmas and it’s as traditional a pantomime as you can get – with a very current and highly comedic script thrown in for good measure.

Pantomimes around the country appear to be adapting their stories to make the principal females feistier and Tim Churchill and Paul Wood’s version is no exception. There are nods to well known television shows such as Gogglebox and Jeremy Kyle as well as a brand new take on the age-old pantomime comedy song ‘If I was Not a…’.

With a simple yet highly effective set providing an elegant and practical backdrop for the action-packed show, we were treated to a good dose of musical numbers which included the hit of the year from ‘The Greatest Showman‘ – ‘This Is Me’, ‘Make Your Own Kind of Music’ by Paloma Faith and naturally we had to join in with ‘Baby Shark‘, the gimmick tune of the season. The strong cast interacted brilliantly with the audience, offered opportunities for the crowd to participate and kept a remarkable level of energy going given their numerous two show days and the fact they’ve had one day off to enjoy Christmas before getting back to it!

Cathy O’Reilly made the perfect Fairy Godmother, not only did she look the part, there was a twinkle in her eye and her vocal ability, which we’d not previously heard – simply stunning! She’s a joy to hear. Tim Churchill, who not only co-wrote the show but also directed it, is well known to us as Mr Lyons and other characters in the Blood Brothers tour. As an Ugly Sister he positively shone and was every inch the pantomime dame as he carped, sneered and appeared to enjoy every minute. He was joined by Paul Deakin as his sister and together they were a menace and hilarious in equal measure. Their names were apt too, Theresa and May! Amy-Jane Ollies is another face who’s become familiar to us as part of the Blood Brothers ‘family’ and in the title role of Cinderella, she was every inch the rags to riches girl. Her comic timing was particularly notable and naturally her sensational singing voice lent itself to the role, she had lovely chemistry with Matthew Dye as Buttons and Robert Dearn as Prince Charming. Dye did a great job of getting the audience involved while Dearn had a superb double act going on with Liam Wakeford as Dandini. In this incarnation, Prince Charming and Dandini were reminiscent of Ant and Dec and it worked fantastically. Den Siegerstz from BBC Radio Stoke completed the line up as Baron Hardup, making his panto debt. He may not have been as overtly natural in panto-land as his co-stars but it was clear he was enjoying his first official role and how wonderful that his daughter is part of the Hanley Babes who appeared in the show too.

There is so much to enjoy in this traditional pantomime, relevant political jokes for the grown ups, a cast who come across as being one big happy family themselves and plenty of magic along the way to entertain the young ones. The parting shot which sums up how well the show was received by our four year old? “I want to be in this show when I grow up”. You can’t say fairer than that can you? Oh no you can’t!

Book your tickets here: https://mitchellartscentre.co.uk/

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Cinderella ~ Liverpool Empire Theatre

Cinderella runs until 7 January 2018, book your tickets here: Liverpool Empire Theatre

Star rating: *****

QDOS are renowned for their lavish, special effects-laden productions and Cinderella at Liverpool Empire Theatre is no exception. With a small cast of lead roles, an extremely able ensemble and a set to rival most of the pantomimes I’ve seen this season – it’s one to bag a ticket for if you can.

What was notable about this incarnation of the popular fairy story was that the lead roles were minimal, leaving the show in the hands of just seven lead characters. All of whom were more than capable of moulding the show into a stand-out spectacle in the best sense of the word. The pace of the production was quick, sharp and ideal for young audience members, capturing the attention of my three year old son and holding his interest for the entire show. Not one of the scenes dragged on, there was a slickness to every nuance.

Olivia Sloyan was a fantastic choice to take the title role, stunning vocals and she acted the role beautifully. Duncan James made for one of the best Princes I’ve seen particularly as he lacked the ‘cheese’ factor as is often associated with the so called hero of the piece. Of course with a singer from Blue at the helm, every song he featured in was exceptional. James Templeton and Daniel Taylor were hilarious as the Ugly Sisters, their partnership was one to be reckoned with and they were mean, cackling disaster areas with quick changes to rival most Dames! Add John Evans to the ensemble as Buttons and the element of comedy sky rocketed, his comedy background shone through and my face ached from laughing at his cornucopia of jokes. What a gem to add to an already sparkling cast. To top it off, Jodie Prenger as Fairy Godmother is a moment I will never forget, motherly, caring and ditzy with those trademark powerhouse vocals and a cheeky glint in her eye. She was my son’s favourite and she truly set the stage alight in every way!

Liverpool have the best production of Cinderella I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this festive season and I cant recommend it highly enough – it’s got all of the traditions expected from a Pantomime with a whole lot of wow to go with it!

Cinderella ~ Malvern Theatres

Cinderella stays at Malvern Theatres until 7 January 2018, to book tickets follow the link: www.malvern-theatres.co.uk/whats-on/cinderella/

Star rating: ****

As pantomimes go, Cinderella is up there with the most renowned and the magic of the fairy tale has been brought to life superbly at Malvern Theatres.

With the effervescent Alison Hammond at the helm as a thoroughly modern Fairy Godmother (there aren’t may Fairies who sing Get Ur Freak On!) and Gemma Naylor giving a brilliantly rounded performance as Cinders – Malvern have another excellent pantomime on their hands, that’s for sure.

This production has a traditional script with enough current affairs to give a fresh take and as every pantomime should (in my humble opinion) there are jokes that work on every level. Kids and adults alike are provided for! The set is lavish and provides the perfect backdrop for the action. There is little use of special effects but they’re not necessary. The Shetland ponies used to pull the carriage at the end of act one are adorable and so well behaved, stars of the show in their own right.

Mark James is on hand to provide comedy aplenty as Buttons, he immediately had the audience on side and we were all ‘behind him’ when it came to shouting out when it looked as though his present to Cinders (the usual box at the side of the stage trick) was in peril. The Ugly Sisters (David Ball and Paul Lawrence-Thomas) earned themselves a good heckling, picked a boyfriend to share out of the audience. They were a formidable duo, playing off one another’s banter brilliantly. What was particularly notable was the comedic elements explored in the role of the Prince, played by Ben Harlow. The Prince can be such a sickly sweet character in some versions, to the point where I lose interest – but I was impressed with Harlow’s interpretation.

The choreography was stunningly engaging and the mixture of musical numbers was also notable. Catchy tunes to sing along to with my particular favourite being ‘Let’s Get Loud’. 

There were a few minor mistakes which were highlighted but with it being pantomime, I’m sure there’ll be more of those along the way – intentional and non-intentional!

One thing’s for certain – Cinderella in Malvern is worth a watch, oh yes it is!

 

Cinderella ~ Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Cinderella runs at the Belgrade Theatre until 13 January 2018 – book your tickets here: Belgrade Theatre

Star rating: ****

It’s the first pantomime of Break A Leg’s busy season – oh yes it is! What better way to kick start it than with Cinderella at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre? Written and directed by Iain Lauchlan who also plays one of the Ugly Sisters (Dyspepsia), it’s a traditional take on the popular story with just the right dose of modern twists.

The set should be commended, for engaging the whole audience before the orchestra struck up – the splendour of the scenery was not lost on my three year old son, my mum or myself. The glitzy finish, clock and fabulous mice were all a fantastic starter in advance of the main course which was also exceptionally glorious. It was a chameleon of a set in fact and the lighting (designed by Pete Cramer) enhanced the ambience. Add to this a flying horse which could rival any creature from the Harry Potter movies and you’ve got yourself a pantomime that will leave a lasting impression.

Maggie Robson as Fairy Godmother

Cinders herself was a gentile, cheery and elegant leading lady played by Alice Rose Fletcher. One criticism being that she wore her ‘rags’ well and the ‘rags’ were extremely vibrant. Fletcher shared some beautiful duets with Bethany Brookes who played Prince Charming. Dandini was played by Letitia Hector and she was extremely exuberant with a powerful vocals. Maggie Robson was resplendent as the Wicked Stepmother, a villainous piece whom Robson embraced, looking fierce with a hint of Cruella De Vil as she revelled in causing Cinderella misery. Maggie also played Fairy Godmother and so vast was the transformation that it was easy to forget that she was playing both roles. Robson ended act one with a stunning solo. Iain Lauchlan and Greg Powrie were an amazing double act as the Ugly Sisters, I particularly enjoyed their grand entrance through the stalls and they worked brilliantly opposite one another. The chemistry worked and the slop scene with Buttons Craig Hollingsworth) was one of the highlights as the sisters prepared for the ball. Buttons is a character who is almost like the glue that pieces the story together, he’s in love with Cinderella but she loves him like a brother. He’s ‘in charge’ of the Ugly Sisters and he also take an integral part at the ball. There was nobody better than Craig Hollingsworth to play the ‘lynchpin’ and his quick wit, zany humour and happy go lucky persona worked superbly.

Memorable slop scene!

The audience participation and interaction in this pantomime was also notable, Buttons selected a lady from the front row to help him to practice telling Cinders that he loves her. Meanwhile the Ugly Sisters each have a boyfriend from the audience, both of whom have to be seated on stage before the end of the Scottish tune that signals their ‘moment’ – landing in their seats before the music stops ensures they avoid a snog from their ugly ‘suitors’. You can imagine how long the music plays for…! I must also mention Buttons and his nod towards a certain ginger singer/songwriter – Ed Sheeran is Cinderella’s favourite!

There’s a good mixture of songs although I’d have happily listened to a few more, lively choreography and a strong ensemble – I think that Coventry have a pantomime to be proud of this year. Oh yes they do!

 

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