Writer: Alan McHugh
Director: Jonathan O’Boyle
Bobby Davro and boyband Union J star George Shelley lead the festive cheers in this eye-catching but awkwardly paced festive offering of Cinderella, as Dartford’s Orchard Theatre’s pantomime gets underway. This is your typical Cinderella story with downtrodden Cinders battling mistreatment at home before Prince Charming swans in to save the day. Initially light on big laughs, a particularly amusing take on the ‘12 Days of Christmas’ is the focus of the second half.
Bobby Davro, as Buttons, is typically goofy and he carries a large responsibility in delivering most of the show’s punchlines. Davro’s physical and vocal comedic timing is evident though some of the material he works with feels a little tired or, when aimed at Ozzy Osbourne or Louis Spence, even a little mean-spirited. That said, Davro works tirelessly to make the crowd laugh and even shows off an impressive vocal range in one of the piece’s more uplifting moments. His work in the second half earns the biggest laughs, and there is a more conscious effort from Davro to engage the audience directly which catapults the show into life after the interval.
Shelley’s Prince Charming is suave and a little smug. Although not given a great deal to work with, he does come into his own during a number of routines, giving him a chance to show off his singing and dancing talents. A strength of the show is its musical sequences, and Shelley is at the heart of many of these. Dancing on Ice winner Regan Gascoigne’s Dandini is a little underwhelming and used almost too sparingly but he seems most at home when he is given the chance to dance and skate. The pair are not aided by a script which has a number of plot holes or jumps in it which directly impact their characters, such as the decision to have Dandini pose as Prince Charming only for it to be suddenly and awkwardly resolved.
As Cinderella, Ellie Jane Grant is fantastic and she captures the genuine sadness her character feels as her mistreatment grows. This is a typical portrayal of the character but Grant’s strong physical and vocal work brings her to life. Grant looks at home leading this show and really shines in her work, with a particular highlight being her spectacular transition from rags to riches at the end of Act 1 with her carriage remarkably flying over the stalls in one of the production’s most impressive moments.
The production’s standout performers are Bobby Delaney and Damien Winchester who are the delightfully cruel ugly sisters, Verruca and Hernia. Delaney and Winchester are witty and sharp in their physical and vocal delivery and create nasty but definitely quite funny villains, giving the performance the injection of humour it needs. Bree Smith’s Fairy Godmother, like others, feels underused and it is a shame that the Fairy Godmother gets so little time in this piece. Smith’s vocal range is superb, shown in a great duet with Grant and it is a performance that leaves you wanting more.
With plenty of glitter and sparkle, the design is enhanced by a superb, small, ensemble cast who bring together each choreographed sequence seamlessly and slickly. What is unusual, though, is the performance’s reluctance to work the audience throughout the first half. There is limited call and response, and it feels a little odd that an audience remains largely a passive participant until this changes after the interval where all the funniest moments are placed.
There is enough in Cinderella to set you up for the festive season and, led by a hardworking ensemble, it is a show that has its moments in leaving audiences in awe. The end of Act 1, for example, is one of those ‘how do they do that’ moments that regained a lot of the younger audience’s attention. Despite its pacing problems, a much funnier and enjoyable second half certainly leaves audiences entertained by the end.
Runs until 31 December 2022