It is hard to believe but this year marks 15 years since the Riverfront Theatre opened in Newport. That means there has been 15 years of Christmas pantomimes at this excellent venue on the banks of the River Usk. In that time, the venue and its Christmas shows in particular have become known for excellence and value. This year is no exception. Writer and Director Richard Gauntlett has taken the well-known tale of Cinderella and sprinkled a heavy dusting of humour, modern songs and local references into the mix to produce a magical show for all the family.
The show begins in a sunny seaside setting of ‘Newport Bay’ and the immediate thing that strikes you is the quality of the set design. This standard is continued throughout the show with some jaw dropping set pieces and innovative uses of props and, in one memorable scene, running water. The set design is more than matched in excellence by costume design, choreography and lighting.
Christmas pantos usually live or die by the quality of the writing, acting and singing. Cinderella aces all three. The whole cast, including the young ensemble, is a credit to the show thanks to the acting talent, energy and fun they exude throughout. The standout performances are delivered by Keiron Self who plays Buttons and Richard Elis and Rhys Edwards as the two ugly sisters. Between the three of them, they have probably have 95% of the laughs. Perhaps the simplest and most effective slice of humour in the show is when the three share the stage together to perform a trick with a balloon. In the wrong hands it could be a dull, filler section but with these three natural comics it is a delightful bit of slapstick comedy that had people of all ages roaring with laughter. Special mention must also go to Rachel Waring who plays the Fairy Godmother for having by far the most accomplished and powerful voice in the production. It was a shame it could not have been utilised more but it is understandable given the limited role this character plays in the narrative.
Cinderella is, for me, a high watermark in the illustrious history of the Christmas pantomimes I have seen at the Riverfront Theatre. The bar has been well and truly raised in this marvellous and heart-warming festive show. The only problem with this is how do they better it next year with the already announced Robin Hood?