Cinderella – The Byre Theatre, St. Andrews

Reviewer- Dominic Corr

Writer and Director: Gordon Barr

For theatres and venues which survived lockdowns, the prospect of closure is just as (if not more so) daunting. Bridging their promotion of the value of theatre, art and expression into the glittering hokum of the pantomime format, Bard in the Botanic’sCinderellaserves as a delightfully festive though frank reminder that for every fictitious villain looking for profit, there is a very actual and sinister presence of those who would slam the doors of a theatre closed for good – without a thought to the cultural value.

Looking to save the Grand Fantasia Theatre from the chopping block, Cinderella, her very best pal Buttons, and the theatre performers have just one shot at saving the venue from her wicked stepmother, Cruella Disdain, who plans to lower the curtain and dash out on her deceased husband’s old venue. And it all lies on one spectacular evening, a grand ball in honour of Prince Charming, one sure to draw in the crowds and help them part with their coin.

Whisking themselves away into the Pantoverse, ready to dazzle and provide eager audiences with a more ‘straight’ performance amidst the larger-than-life characters and rogues. But fear not, as Tinashe Warikandwa’s charm and humorous chemistry with the entire cast ensure that Cinderella is just as engaging as any other role on stage. Their scenes with James Boal’s Buttons are revoltingly saccharine – a true fairy tale chemistry of platonic friendship and the flickers of Button’s adoration for his friend. Boal’s comedic strengths have been demonstrated through the summer’s production of The Importance of Being Earnestwith their more slapstick and great crowd-work shining throughoutCinderella.

In a playful twist on the tale we know, Gordon’s Barr’sCinderella has enough to subvert the traditions with a more inclusive and contemporary spin to keep everyone involved and engaged. It’s a show which places humour and heart at the front of the stage, one which captures every enjoyable element of pantomime with plenty of interactivity, jokes flying overheads, but piles in some (surprisingly) clever moments which help make Cinderellaa theatre-lovers pantomime, and culminates in the best pantomime St. Andrews has seen in years.

Andy Manning’s musical direction launchesCinderellainto a show-stopping affair of talent and song, ditching those tried and tested classics for some pop classics and some narrative-appropriate choices from the pantheon of musical theatre. From Stephanie McGregor’s elongated pronunciations to Éimi Quinn’s more cutting and rounded local twang, these Ugly Sisters are anything if not the belles of the ball with their hilarious double-act, delivered with just enough venom to keep them on the side of antagonism long enough for their redemption to feel earnest and tagged on for effect.

Stop the presses – the news is out. It appears Bette Midler and the late, great Leslie Jordan may have produced a long-undiscovered lovechild in Stephen Arden’s Cruella Disdain, a southern dame with one ambition in life: furthering themselves. Whether it’s cold-hard-cash, or getting one up on Cinderella, Arden channels a balance of vim and vinegar, eagerly egging on the crowds to give them their best boos. Returning to choreograph once more, Arden ensures there’s a prim and proper civility with some brief ballroom thrown in but saves the high kicks and intense energy for themselves, Quinn, and McGregor’s performance of Heathers’ hitCandy Store– which continues to prove them as Scotland’s best Panto baddie.

But for every boo and hiss, there must be someone who draws out the festive spirit of the show. Fairy Mary Doll finds Alan Steele in pitch-perfect form as audiences eagerly lap up every moment of it all. Yes, even the bad jokes. With a wave of their wand and a few of Cher’s best hits,Cinderella is not only a gorgeous panto, with Carys Hobb’s design work being a stellar hit, but one of the most communal with the alternating young team of either The Slippers or The Pumpkins, managed by the Byre Youth and Community Arts teams, and all of whom bring a spark of emerging talent to the stage.

A pertinent reminder of the instability all around theatres in Scotland,Cinderella’s story of the magic of theatre and the necessity to preserve it erupts with laughter and untainted joy from the crowds, lifting any sour faces and demonstrating the value of performance and the invaluable experience and pleasure which comes from access to the theatre. A theatre-lovers pantomime, with open arms for all, Cinderella is as gorgeous as they come and is better than any Royal ball.

Runs until 31 December 2023 | Image: Contributed

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