Writer: Paul Hendy
Director: Matthew Daines
Reviewer: Edie Ranvier
It’s never too early to get into the panto mood. (Cue: “Oh, yes it is!”)
All right, so we’re barely a week into December – but Croydon’s Ashcroft Theatre has been transformed already into a pink and purple shimmering, rainbow-prism-decked magic circle of kitsch like the inside of the Sugar Plum Fairy’s head. No, it’s not a Nicki Minaj tribute, but the setting for the traditional Fairfield Halls Christmas pantomime.
This year it’s that panto classic Cinderella, complete with all the staples you’ve come to know and love – pumpkin carriage, slightly-adapted pop songs, dancing troupe, sumptuous costumes – plus a few extras, including a flying pony and a magic snowstorm, which put the marzipan icing on the Christmas cake.
The cast are all shiny and lovable. Joanna Sawyer is a pretty, wimpy, squeaky-clean Cinderella whose dancing and singing distract you from a philosophy of life that would make Germaine Greer gnaw her varnish-free nails in frustration.
StephenMulhern, of ITV and Britain’s Got More Talent fame, balances her out as a lovelorn, slightly wicked Buttons, whose sense of humour is a bit more grown-up than his baby-faced looks might lead you to expect!
Benjamin Brook is suitably handsome and vapid as Prince Charming, while Steve Wickenden supplies slapstick and Cockney banter as his knowing henchman Dandini.
Lisa Davina Phillip as the Fairy Godmother is as warm as a bubble bath, with a lovely singing voice to boot, and combines ballet frills, sequins and a rich Jamaican accent into a bright pink cocktail of a performance that will make you wish she was your Fairy Godmother (or just your mum).
Stewart Wright and Matt Daines, who’s also the director, play the Ugly Sisters, Eugenie and Beatrice (how unkind!) They’re on the subdued side for pantomime villains, though what they lack in cavalier wickedness they make up for in costumes. They go through at least five outfits each, including a particularly arresting brace of McDonalds-inspired dresses complete with massive hamburger hats.
The audience is a bit muted in the first half, and the cheers, heckles and “He’s behind you”s don’t initially generate enough hot air to lift the balloon of the panto very high off the ground. It’s a Tuesday night, after all, and perhaps Christmas still feels a while off yet.
But by the second half, everyone has got into their stride (interval drinks bar, anyone?), and the audience is yelling, booing, releasing Cinderella from the cellar and singing Ghostbusters with gusto. The night winds up with an inspired, un-topical sing-along to Shake It Off, which may not be the most auspicious First Dance for the happy couple but has us all on our feet busting moves in the aisles.
It’s a fun, beautifully-produced take on a classic wish-fulfilment story, that will have you and your kids into the party mood before those Advent Calendars are even half eaten.
Runs until 3 January 2016 | Image:Frazer Ashford