ComedyFamilyFestive 18/19North East & YorkshireReview

Cinderella – Theatre Royal, Wakefield

Writer: Daniel O’Brien

Director: Rhiannon Hannon

Musical Director: Jim Lunt

Choreographer: Louise Denison

Designer: Mark Walters

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Wakefield Theatre Royal pantomimes come with a guarantee of good quality traditional fun, with a successful formula that delivers every time. Daniel O’Brien (aka Colin Blumenau) does the words, locally sourced and not too naughty, Rhiannon Hannon directs unshowily, and with economy and energy, Chris Hannon puts on the frocks and slyly insults the audience, and Jim Lunt gets more out of a three-piece band than seems likely. All the youthful eight-girl chorus teams are confident, stylish and well-drilled and the designs are lavish and witty, with plenty of glitter.

2018 is the same – and yet not quite the same. It feels as though someone decided that the originality needed to be upped a notch, starting with a singing narrator (Samantha Palin as Gloriana, a Fairy Godmother-to-be) – not the best clear, get-on-with-it start. Then, when the engaging Buttons (Luke Harley) speedily establishes rapport with the children, it seems ages before they next have a chance to greet him uproariously. The first half generally is polished, clever, well sung, often funny, but there’s not much shouting, at least not from the audience – it’s not until the last half hour that things really take off! 

As Rodgers and Hammerstein didn’t say, there is nothing like two Dames – and that’s what Cinderella offers. The droll Chris Hannon, a master at playing the sub-text (in other words, sliding in and out of character), is Griselda Grimallova, and he is joined by fellow-Yorkshire panto veteran Chris Chilton as his equally ugly sister Gretchen. Both are excellent, but the tighter scripting of their “I’m more beautiful than she is” relationship loses some of the free-wheeling Dame comedy – at least, until that manic last half hour.

One of the (clean) jokes for the adults is about avoiding gender stereotyping – and Cinderella is pretty keen on that. Georgie Ashford’s Cinders is forthright and argumentative and Dandini becomes Dandina – a good idea in many ways, giving Buttons a chance to escape his normal forlorn fate.

It’s astonishing to think of Sarah Louise Hughes repeating her super-energetic performance three times a day: her high-speed athleticism and strident delivery can be a bit exhausting for the audience, too. No Baron Hardup here, but a Wicked Stepmother – Russian, no less – Countess Grimallova, not pronounced “Grim All Over”, she insists. Brandi Himmelreich is in fine scenery-chewing form, with no reduction in decibels. With Prince Charming we are in more conventional territory: Jordan Harrington is likeably self-regarding, with – as so many of the cast – a fine singing voice.

It all feels a bit more ambitious than previous years – done with style and polish, with assorted clever little plot developments – but, for much of the performance, a touch lower on homely fun. However, it can claim to be a Cinderella with two transformation scenes: the one with pumpkin and mice is charmingly done, but better still is the one of the theatre itself. The experience of visiting the Theatre Royal is transformed (no other word will do) by the extension into a new café/bar, box office and studio theatre.

Runs until January 6, 2019 | Image: Robling Photography

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