Writer/Director: James Shone
Reviewer: Rebecca Cohen
The festive season is now upon us and alongside the copious decorations and traditional trimmings with the turkey dinner comes a selection of celebrity-endorsed pantomimes for families across the country to choose from.
This year, Liverpool Echo Arena’s offer is Cinderella, the much-loved tale of an orphaned girl who goes from rags to riches after falling head over heels with a disguised prince. At its forefront, it has former X Factor runner-up and Dancing on Ice winner Ray Quinn as Prince Charming, E4’s Stage School’s Betsy-Blue English as the titular character, and Britain’s Got Talent’s Lucy Heath and her pup Trip Hazard as the Fairy Godmother and the Fairy ‘Dog Father’. But despite securing headline acts, the arena’s production lacks the overall quality expected of a professional pantomime and is in desperate need of its very own Fairy Godmother to give it that extra bit of sparkle.
Produced by Shone Productions, the big musical numbers pose one of the biggest problems of this show, with the live band completely overshadowing the singers, and leaving the audience straining to hear the vocals of the principal characters. When English’s most renowned talent is her voice – she appeared on the X Factor in a group called Only The Young – this is unfortunate, since she is not one of theatre’s ‘triple threats’ and does not have the acting or dancing ability to hold the show together. Her voice remains high-pitched and sickly sweet throughout, and in the main pieces of choreography she looks out of place and clumsy, and needs to have more animation in her facial expressions and gestures to remain in keeping with the over-the-top panto genre. And while Trip Hazard’s tricks are one of the highlights of the production, especially for the youngsters in the audience, their partnership should maybe have been a feature piece, rather than a part, with Heath not having the acting skills to pull such an iconic role off.
The end of the first half has the potential to be truly magical, Cinderella being taken to the ball on a flying horse and carriage. However, this spectacle is also lost, with the combination of theatrical fog and lighting meaning the special effect is hard to see and not oozing the wow factor.
That said, Buttons, played by comedian Mark Jones, really steals the show and sets the standards of how a pantomime actor/actress should be. He is dynamic, engaging, funny and his quick wit and interaction with the audience are what ultimately make this production worth watching. Some of the conventional pantomime scenes – the ghost bench act with Buttons, Dandini and the Ugly Sisters, for example – are executed well, and have parents and children alike engaged in the silliness and make-believe of the show.
With so many local pantomimes to choose from, however, this performance of a classic fairytale is in need of some serious upheaval if it is going to get its happily ever after.
Runs until 24 December 2016 | Image: Contributed