Writer: Will Brenton
Director: George Wood
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
It’s Cinderella City here in South London with Wimbledon and Croydon both taking on the pantomime this year. Wimbledon’s version of the pantomime favourite is a hoot, but, despite the presence of Ore Oduba and Tim Vine, Croydon’s Cinderella is flat and sanitised.
The crucial point about pantomimes, and the reason for their longevity, is that they provide entertainment for children and adults alike. Croydon’s Cinderella is strictly for children: any smutty innuendos have been exiled like a prince from fairyland leaving a one-dimensional show that stretches to almost three hours.
The set is also disappointing, and holds no surprises, and two measly fireworks are its only special effects. By choosing to produce Cinderella in the Phoenix Concert Hall (looking very much the Royal Festival Hall) rather than in the theatre at Fairfield Hall the set has to remain static. The Concert Hall is not designed for set changes, wires and trapdoors. While initially impressive with its curved fairy-tale castle towers, Mark Walters’ set soon loses its lustre when we realise that all scene changes are made with the use of cartoon films in the background.
Ore Oduba makes for a charming Dandini, but his part in the story as The Prince’s valet seems underwritten, and he has little to do. The Strictly Come Dancing champion of 2016 is still light on his toes, even reproducing some of his jive routine, and has a surprisingly good singing voice, but overall, his part seems peripheral to the story in which Buttons and Cinderella take centre stage.
As Buttons, comedian Tim Vine is funny, but the humour – all puns and a bit of slapstick – is terribly safe, and it does become wearying after a while, especially when he and the Ugly Stepsisters do their chocolate bar routine. Their Twelve Days Of Christmas skit is better managed, and is one of the few highlights of the evening. The Ugly Stepsisters, here called Tess and Claudia, try hard but they too give a muted performance, never being allowed to be naughty or vulgar enough.
Grace Chapman is a popular Cinderella, and soon has our sympathies and there is, thankfully, some chemistry between her and James Bisp as Prince Charming. These two sing a lot too, and one of the reasons for the show’s lengthy running time is that their songs go on forever with every verse, chorus and bridge intact. Their version of Steve Winwood’s Higher Love slows the first half down to a crawl.
This Cinderella has been produced by Imagine Theatre, who are working on over 40 pantomimes this year across the UK. With rival theatre company Qdos producing 35 shows this season, the pantomime genre has become a corporate business. However, Qdos has stuck closer to the traditions of pantomime retaining spectacle and the jokes that go over children’s heads. Conversely, Imagine Theatre, or at least their Cinderella, seems designed for pre-teen children only.
If you are a South Londoner eager for some Christmas entertainment for all the family, it might be wiser to hop on a tram to Wimbledon rather than Croydon. The latter’s Cinderella is perfectly pleasant, but needs an edit and a good deal more sauce.
Runs until 5 January 2020 | Image: Craig Sugden