Writers: Anna Nicholson and Bobby Goulder
Director: Toby Hulse
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a regional theatre in search of a good fortune, must be in want of a pantomime. And there is no doubting the power of pantomime not only to sustain our regional theatres but also to give many people their first experience of live theatre. Oxford Playhouse is to be commended for continuing its long tradition of creating original pantomimes with new scripts and stagings every year.
Cinderella marks the start of a new era for the theatre with the introduction of a new creative team – director Toby Hulse and writers Anna Nicholson and Bobby Goulder. While there is no denying that they are bringing a fresh perspective to this oft-told fairytale, doubts still linger as to some of the choices they have made.
One of their most notable changes is to create a new villain for the piece, the evil Dandina. Alice Marshall relishes every single moment as she dominates the action from the opening scene with a barn-storming performance. She really does steal the show – which, ordinarily, would not be an issue. But the focus of the story normally rests on the journey of Cinderella from down-trodden sister to the highest in the land and so the dominance of Dandina does rather unbalance the piece as a whole. Another innovation is the transformation of the Fairy Godmother into a Fairy Shapeshifter by the name of Alan. Robin Hemmings does his best to make this re-imagining work but, even with his considerable comedic skills to the fore, it does not fully work as a way of capturing the magic at the heart of the original story.
Cinderella is played with huge charm by Priscille Grace who brings a captivating presence and warmth to all of her scenes. She is well-matched by her somewhat geeky and socially awkward Prince Charming, Connor Wood. They both sing strongly and certainly capture the hearts of the young audience members.
Special praise must go to the young company of local performers who fill the stage with the real spirit of the season. They are clearly loving every second and it is hard to distinguish them from their adult counterparts. For this performance, Team Blue was on stage and there can be little doubt that Team Pink will be equally accomplished in all they do.
We still get many of the traditional pantomime moments – such as a Bake Off inspired messy scene, the song sheet and the all-important transformation moment. But they each, in their own way, fall just a little short. From a first-time theatregoer’s perspective, none of this matters in the slightest. They will be entranced by the rapping mice (Buttons is now a mouse, by the way) and will love the slapstick, the outrageous Ugly Sisters and the booing of the villain. And viewed through the eyes of a child, this is a hugely enjoyable production.
But looked at with a slightly more critical eye, the desire for innovation has robbed this most endearing of stories of a little of the heart and magic that has made it a mainstay of our childhoods for so many years. In essence, what we have is a talented, energetic and engaging cast and a script that lacks some of the necessary sparkle for it to truly take flight as a festive classic.
Runs Until 8 January 2022