Last year I wrote a piece on how it was to go to the panto for the first time, as a foreigner settled in the UK, and experience a form of performance completely alien to my own cultural background and just as completely rooted in the one of the country I’ve made myself a home in. It was such a great experience that exactly one year later I’m back at the New Theatre panto, this time for the sheer pleasure of it – and not only did this year’s Cinderella not disappoint, it most definitely exceeded expectations.
Not running away from, but embracing and enjoying the whole set of panto tropes, this was a two-hour cavalcade of endless fun with barely a moment for the audience to catch their collective breath. The set design was brilliant, detailed and particularly glittery, the tempo and pacing near-perfect, even allowing for the inevitable laughing slips on the part of the performers; the atmosphere friendly and cheeky. From the technical standpoint, under the laid-back surface of the piece, there was much to be applauded if one paid enough attention. I will not name everything – some surprises are after all better not spoiled – but among the things that must absolutely be mentioned there is a lip-syncing sketch that had the audience (and part of the cast) in stitches, a particularly lengthy and treacherous tongue-twister, and, most outstanding of all, a very clever slapstick take on the classic romantic duet that was somehow one of the most satisfying things I have seen on stage in quite a while.
The credit for much of this goes to Phil Butler as Buttons, whose comedic timing is so perfect it borders the uncanny; but Cinderella is not short of strong performances. Mike Doyle and Ceri Dupree as the Ugly Stepsisters are as enjoyable as any panto villain has ever been, with some impressive stage costumes and plenty of tongue-in-cheek humour to dispense. Gok Wan is an impossibly charming Fairy Gokmother (we all saw that pun coming, but that didn’t make it any less chuckle-worthy) and is clearly enjoying himself so much that it would be very hard not to share in that enjoyment. Add to that some eye-pleasing choreography from the ensemble, and some surprising strong singing voices – Teleri Hughes as Cinderella stands out – and it makes for a true crowd-pleaser.
The script manages very well to keep the youngest audience members engaged, and this is a perfect family treat; but the addition of a slightly higher than normal amount of adult humour under disguise makes sure that parents will be entertained, too. Together with its strong performances and cheerful visuals, this makes Cinderella a great addition to the Cardiff festive cheer and a way to bring some light and magic into this rainy Christmastime.