Writer: Peter Duncan
Director: Karen Simpson
Musical Director: Phil Gostelow
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
When you run the country’s only working Georgian playhouse there’s a temptation to go with a historical pantomime. The Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds annual festive treat may forego the soapstar casting but its traditional panto is no museum piece. So it proves with Cinderella, a show that will usher in the venue’s 50th anniversary year since reopening as a working theatre.
The traditional feel is certainly there, the story faithful to the original and with Rebecca Lee’s designs making full use of techniques that have impressed audiences for generations. Changes have been rung from previous years, however, with Peter Duncan penning the script for this year’s production. Duncan’s script provides slapstick aplenty for the younger members of the audience but also a smattering of material that their parents will have a sly chuckle over. Duncan’s script may have all theconstituentelements but, in Karen Simpson’s production, those elements have not entirely gelled.
There is sometimes the misconception that panto is easy work but it takes skill and confidence in the material to make it look that easy. There are times in this production where that confidence seems lacking. Audience heckles derail the company at times and the required instant retort is missing at this time. There’s also a lack of pace and energy at times, something that is worrying at only show three out of a 70+ show run. Technical issues and missed queues also add to the sense that perhaps this show isn’t quite ready for an audience yet.
Saying that there are moments to enjoy. Sarah-Louise Young’s Fairy Godmother is a refreshing take on the traditional character, a witty Irish imp with a quick retort and real rapport with the audience. Young’s stage presence is captivating and lights up the stage for each appearance, showing what can be achieved.Matthew Russell-Jones’ Buttons is charming in a cheeky-chappy manner,while Aimee Barrett’s Cinderella sings beautifully but is less convincing as the wronged, put upon daughter.
Jon de Ville and James Parkes are suitably over the top as the Ugly Sisters, a hideous hybrid of Lady Gaga and TOWIE but, at this stage of the run, there’s still a sense of two individual performances rather than the necessary double trouble. Again there’s a feeling that the timing needs tightening and comfort in interacting with a lively panto audience needs establishing.
Musically there’s a fair nod to Disney with Enchanted’s True Love Kiss providing the main musical motif alongside the 2014 obligatory rendition of Let It Go. Phil Gostelow’s musical direction also weaves in Into The Woods, Sweeney Todd, Me and My Girl and Lady Gaga into the score. It’s a rich sound from just two musicians (Nicky Caulfield alongside Gostelow) but the decision to have Gostelow perched at the rear of the stage, half concealed by a backdrop, does seem another odd directorial choice.
Panto develops over time and there’s plenty of opportunity for the company to fix the current issues and, even with these issues, the young audience enjoyed their opportunity for some seasonal silliness. It’s just a shame that with some more work, and a shot of festive fizz, this Cinderella could be so much more.
Runs until 11 January 2015| Photo Keith Mindham