Writer and Director: John Savournin
Music and Lyrics: David Eaton
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
All little girls are told to dream of their Prince Charming, handsome, chivalrous and brave, destined to ride in one day and rescue us from sweeping fireplaces and making friends with woodland creatures. But as we grow up, and especially in the last year, we have realised that Prince Charming may not be the one after all, he’s arrogant, entitled and probably a sex pest… thankfully Charles Court Theatre’s latest pantomime is here to show us the man we really need is right under our noses.
Cinderella and her mum Betty live on a farm at the edge of the magical wood, with only her best friend the inanimate teddy bear Buttons for company. One day in the village, Cinderella’s head is turned by the dastardly Prince Charming who has a plan to lure the young innocent into a trap. With fairy-tale characters dying in mysterious circumstances, Buttons begs his Fairy Godfather to transform him into a real boy so he can save the woman he loves.
After last year’s riotous Egyptian panto, we’ve come to expect big things from Charles Court Opera and Buttons: A Cinderella Story easily lives-up to their reputation for bonkers Christmas fare with a cheeky side that would make Sid James blush. Creators John Savournin and David Eaton like to turn story conventions around and this Cinderella plot is no exception, making the Prince the baddie, refocusing it on an animated children’s toy and replacing the glass slipper with an incriminating lost button.
It’s inventive stuff, using the original framework to weave something much more bizarre and up-to-date, a fairy story of the #MeToo generation with dirty jokes and lots of repurposed songs. You’ll easily recognise adaptations of All the Single Ladies turned into a cheeky baking song as Betty and Prince Charming fight it out before some audience members have to make an éclair and two profiteroles (which writes it own jokes), there’s also a very funny version of Suddenly as Buttons finally declares his love topped later by the angry Buttons now in teddy form performing the brilliant Creep.
Best of all is a ludicrously funny take on Bohemian Rhapsody in which our teddy hero is turned into a real boy by a mafioso Godfather puppet and some fairy assistants in shocking pink tutus. With more than a dozen songs, they don’t all work so well including an extended Thriller in the dark wood which masks a costume change, but the small cast give it their all for the full two hours.
Eleanor Sanderson-Nash is a sweet Cinderella, a stable presence amongst some big comic performances, not least Savournin’s pantomime dame Betty, a baker in a serious of fantastic outfits and wigs (designed by Mia Wallden) who lusts after the local policeman and never resists a cream joke. As ever in panto, the gender swaps extend to the male characters with Catrine Kirkman’s funny PC Pumpkin and Emily Cairns henchman-like Dandini.
But it’s Matthew Kellett as Buttons and Jennie Jacobs as Prince Charming who earn the biggest audience reactions. In his cute teddy bear outfit Kellett wins everyone over and, even as the amusingly misnamed “Buttocks,” is the real hero of the story, while Jacobs is a marvellous villain, deceiving Cinderella for dastardly purposes and relishing every minute of her role.
All the loose ends tie-up, although the murderous subplot could have a far greater purpose in the main story and seeing as Savournin and Eaton have introduced the idea a Christmas crime or two would add some extra pantomime danger to bulk-up the plot. Nonetheless, Buttons: A Cinderella Story gives a new twist to a well-worn story. Finding love with your own teddy bear may not be quite the happy ending we all dreamed of, but the world is decidedly lacking in Prince Charmings these days.
Runs until 5 January 2019 | Image: Bill Knight