Writer: Paul Hendy
Director: Juliet Forster
With the end of the manic Wagon Wheel-throwing, film-projecting Berwick Kaler years, followed by the splendid initiative of last year’s Travelling Pantomime, York Theatre Royal swims back into the panto mainstream with a first-class production of Cinderella by Paul Hendy and Emily Wood’s Evolution Productions.
These days really messy slop scenes appear to have been dropped from the pantomime agenda – doubtless for health and safety reasons – but all the other elements you look for are here. The usual set pieces are entertainingly done, with a novel feature being the illustrated telling of 36 jokes about Disney characters, clever and funny – and even funnier when one of the actors slips up! The stylish pre-interval transformation scene follows a charmingly playful improvised carriage scene for Buttons and Cinderella.
Speciality acts are well used, Duo Fusion’s aerial acrobatics providing a spectacular three minutes. More integral to the show is Max Fulham’s ventriloquism. Amiably energetic as Buttons, timing his gags to a nicety, Fulham brings with him Gordon the monkey to share the narration, the wisecracking and the announcing of birthdays and suchlike. More impressive still is Fulham’s way of voicing everything from a fly to a rubbish bin and slipping in a spot of juggling. Apparently last year Fulham picked up an award for Best Speciality Act in pantomime – not a surprise!
If Fulham’s is the stand-out performance, the cast overall is strong. Robin Simpson (Manky) and Paul Hawkyard (Mardy) bring plenty of experience of playing dames to the parts of the Ugly Sisters, but, from their first appearance as bikers, they set new standards in aggression, competing with each other in maniacal laughter and proudly proclaiming that they’re the villains. Less confidential than the traditional Dame, they earn their boos!
Andy Day as Dandini has an easy style and maximum audience appeal, plus linking smartly with Benjamin Lafayette’s elegantly unassuming Prince Charming. Faye Campbell’s sparkling and ever-smiling Cinderella is hardly downtrodden (it’s a very optimistic show!) and Sarah Leatherbarrow provides a nice variation on the Fairy Godmother, as a less than competent fairy who has to earn her stripes – shades of It’s a Wonderful Life! The ensemble of six young professionals is capable and attractive, if given limited opportunities for individual action.
Juliet Forster keeps a firm hand on the miscellaneous comings and goings, stirring audience involvement right from the opening bars by Stephen “Stretch” Price’s hard-working trio and building a real head of steam after the interval. Phil Daniels and Michelle Marden’s sets are attractively detailed, with the clock effects round the proscenium arch an inspiration, and taking pride of place among Helga Wood’s colourful and imaginative costume designs must be the Ugly Sisters’ “walking the dog” ensembles – complete with fluffy dogs!
Runs until January 2nd 2022