It’s a lovely touch that Judith Croft, the designer of this all-singing, all-dancing panto at Theatr Clwyd, has transformed the auditorium into a fairytale location, extending the magic of the stage into the audience, making the set just as inclusive as the dialogue.
Because that’s what panto is all about – getting the audience involved in the action, making them feel part of things, and inspiring young minds into perhaps one day returning to the theatre to try something new and different. Eager young eyes watching Cinders go to the ball in 2015 are the discerning box office fodder of 2035, after all…
Theatr Clwyd is known for its raucous, rock ‘n’ roll take on the traditional festive production. But the only thing traditional about this Cinderella is its framing story (and I say framing because it’s a loose telling of the tale) and the Toytown sets. This is a Cinderella for the Frozen generation, which is exactly the direction it needs to go in.
Every single performer gives their all in what is a loud, colourful, unashamedly fun and surprisingly naughty production. It is, of course, meant for all the family, but I must admit to raising a couple of eyebrows at the level of humour laced into the script by Peter Rowe at points – the script seems to be preoccupied with sexual innuendo on a level approaching a 1970s Carry On film. It’s rarely lewd, but often suggestive, complete with thrusting crotches and even a dance routine between Dandini and Prince Charming which very briefly enters a world some might say is unsuitable for the little ones.
Having said that, all of the sexual innuendo and suggestion – and occasional hints at off-colour language – will no doubt go flying over the heads of the youngest children. It will make the older kids giggle, I’m sure, and of course the adults can’t help but guffaw at the risque digs. But I must admit I did come away from the show thinking the tone was perhaps aimed a little too much at the grown-ups and not quite enough at the wide-eyed five-year-olds.
But I can’t deny it is very funny. The routine with Buttons, Baron Hardup and a wishing well is delightful – just beware if you’re in the first few rows for that bit! – while Fairy Funlove’s search for the mice to turn into horses for Cinderella’s carriage is pure, undiluted fun (“Over there! Behind you!”). It’s one of those panto mainstays that never seems to get old, but the added sillyness of the mice’s squeaky conversations made me chuckle heartily. Loved it!
Heading up the cast is Mold panto veteran Phylip Harries. His forte is usually the dame, but this year he’s opted to play a fun-loving Baron Hardup, sliding onto stage on his horse-drawn scooter and proceeding to chat with those in the audience whose birthday it is. This stand-up routine from Harries is a lovely bit of business, and while it may go on just a little too long, it gets the audience cranked up and ready for the sillyness ahead. A Theatr Clwyd panto without Harries would never be as wonderful, and long may he continue, whether in frocks or frock coats.
Daniel Lloyd plays Dandini as a sexy rock star (cue thrusting crotches) and adds a lovely twinkle to the performance, and he is coupled with Joe Vetch as Prince Charming, here channelling his inner Mr Bean. Fairy Funlove is played by Lindsay Goodhand – isn’t that just the perfect name for a fairy godmother? – who shines in the run-up to the half-time climax as she transforms the stage from town square into royal ballroom.
Central to the fairytale, but not necessarily this adaptation, is Cinderella, played with wholesome gusto by Nicola Martinus-Smith, while Amy Penston plays the villainous villainess Rubella De Zees (duh-duh-duuuuh!), a delicious mix of Bette Davis and Cruella De Vil. She is so very good in this part.
James Haggie’s Buttons left me rather nonplussed. Dressed in CBeebies dungarees and his faced packed with red-cheeked rouge, he makes for a mildly unsettling presence, not helped by the squeaky voice he adopts for his dialogue. It seems like a failed attempt to capture Joe Pasquale’s magic, but to be honest, Pasquale’s magic died a death decades ago, and this performance just left me confused and a little creeped out. However, when Haggie sings, he sings with his natural voice, and this is so impressive that it makes you want him to speak normally too. Buttons is a character firmly aimed at the children. I just hope Buttons works for them.
Dan Bottomley and Alex Parry play Ugly Sisters Hernia and Verucca as man-hungry slappers from Bootle with one eye on an invitation to the royal ball, but both eyes firmly fixed on getting their leg over. It’s a hilarious, rip-roaring performance from Bottomley and Parry, but again, the level of humour can sometimes be questionable. At times the material wouldn’t be out of place in one of Jim Davidson’s adult pantos (“Slag”? Really?), but they bring so much hilarity to these grotesques that this can be overlooked. The moment when they surge into the audience with water cannons is a delight, especially if you’re sitting in the middle watching those at the edge get soaked!
There are some lovely costumes too: Hardup’s lime green jacket is an eye-catching creation, and the Ugly Sisters boast the most enormous bosoms this side of Dollywood. They look like beach balls in an eggcup and add so much to the fun. Plus, there’s Cinders’ ballgown, revealed at the end of Act 1 in a pure Frozen moment.
Cinderella: The Panto with Soul is a family show with its sights set slightly older than might be expected, but which has plenty for the little ones to enjoy. Like one of those Carry On films which relied a little too much on smut and not enough on comedy, it will leave teenagers and adults overwhelmingly entertained, but might leave the youngest ones behind a little.
Cinderella can be seen at Theatr Clwyd until January 23rd 2016.