Festive 19/20LondonPantomimeReview

Cinderella – New Wimbledon Theatre, London

Writer: Alan McHugh with Pete Firman

Director: Michael Gyngell

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Wimbledon always knows how to put on a panto and, even if this year’s production lacks the big names of earlier shows, this Cinderella is a hit. With sparkling costumes, fireworks, floating coaches, and enough jokes for kids and adults alike, this pantomime is heart-warmingly old school. In short, it’s a joy.

The most familiar name, probably, is Samantha Womack (Ronnie from EastEnders) and here she has fun as Cinderella’s evil stepmother Demonica Hardup. Pretty much casting aside her Cockney TV character, she receives her boos with glee, and is the perfect pantomime villain. Second on the billing is soprano Lesley Garrett as The Fairy Godmother. Making her entrance on a wire, Garrett never takes herself too seriously, even when she gives us a rousing rendition of The Impossible Dream in the second half.

Cinderella is played by Melody Thornton, one of the (numerous) Pussycat Dolls, and while she is in good voice, her role is fairly predictable as the girl who falls in love with a prince. Other pantomimes may give their leading ladies a little more agency or ambition; here Thornton is disappointingly passive showing little independence. Indeed, on press night even children in the audience seemed flabbergasted when she agreed to marry a man she barely knew.

Instead of Cinderella, the audience’s sympathy is firmly with Buttons, played by Peter Firman, who returns to Wimbledon after last year’s Aladdin. He’s the heart of the play, and seems the most comfortable on stage, doing the odd magic trick or talking to the children who join him in mastering tongue twisters. He has natural talent, and it’s hard to imagine this production without him.

Laughs come from Cinderella’s two ugly sisters, Hernia and Verruca, two pantomime dames for the price of one. They look spectacular in their increasingly outrageous outfits, and also well dressed, with tricorns and plumes, are Prince Charming and his servant Dandini. As the prince, Edward Chitticks also throws some very fancy shapes on the dance floor.

Altogether it’s a slick evening, and another success for Qdos, who are currently producing 35 pantomimes this season, including the one at the London Palladium. The thought of a theatre company banging out such a number of shows may seem a little corporate, but Qdos certainly know what they are doing, and there are enough references to Wimbledon and its environs to make the audience feel at home.

Cinderella may go to the ball, but the whole audience has a ball too, up on its feet for the encore with the cast belting out I’m Still Standing: A good song choice for a theatrical tradition that goes back centuries. And it doesn’t appear to be going out of fashion soon.

Runs until 5 January 2020

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Old-school joy

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