“an experience that will give you all the laughs, cheer, and warmth that panto did when you were a kid”
Suffice it to say a lot of Christmas traditions will have to change this year, but in spite of everything, Nottingham Playhouse’s pantomime Cinderella has stayed steadfast. It’s had to adapt, of course, but it still delivers the festive family fun that we’ve come to know and love from panto.
Featuring no close contact on stage, Cinderella was filmed with a distanced audience comprised of the theatre’s staff, ensuring a safe experience for all that still provides that level of liveness and audience interaction that panto thrives off. Despite these alterations, the plot and characters remain as classic as ever – there’s Buttons (Tim Frater), the ugly stepsisters (John Elkington and Tom Hopcroft), a charming prince with his assistant (David Albury and Jessica Lee respectively), an evil stepmother doubling as a fairy godmother (Sara Poyzer), and of course Cinderella herself (Gabrielle Brooks). A great cast all round, with Elkington particularly shining through a cheeky relationship with the audience and some well-placed fourth-wall breaks. Brooks was also excellent in the title role, radiating a sunny wholesomeness that makes you root for her.
Adam Penford’s script and direction work well given the confines, with an abundance of current-events jokes that mostly land – there are some shots at Brexit and Trump which feel a bit tired, but conversely a lot of great humour around everything that’s happened this year that’s in good taste, a feat which I’m sure many other panto scripts won’t have managed. This show smartly also doesn’t over-egg the ‘he’s behind you’ style tropes that might’ve felt cumbersome as someone not participating live, leaving for a show with a quick-flowing pace that’s sure to keep the attention of even the most restless kids.
Of course, the other vital tenet of any good panto is the songs, and this is where Cinderella stumbles slightly. Despite strong musical direction from John Morton, some of the song choices feel very loosely connected to the context of the scene and as though they’re just there because they’re recognisable. Rachel Nanyonjo has clearly put in great effort as choreographer to work around restrictions but certain moments, such as the dance between Cinderella and the prince, simply feel lacking due to the absence of contact.
What Cinderella delivers that in spades, though, is the cosiness of watching a pantomime. Despite some Covid compromises, this is still an experience that will give you all the laughs, cheer, and warmth that panto did when you were a kid, and if you’re looking at online options for your family Christmas show, you need look no further.
Reviewed by Ethan Doyle
Photography by Pamela Raith
Live at Nottingham Playhouse also available on demand online until 16th January
“design is initially majestic and also cleverly subtle, leaving plenty of discoveries around the set”
Watching Deathtrap put me in mind of when I read ‘Gone Girl’, and was frankly a bit bored with the opening action then became pleasantly surprised when it turned out that actually my initial boredom was sort of the whole point. In another likeness to that recent novel blockbuster, I find it is difficult to write a thorough review of this Ira Levin play without including a few substantial spoilers. Let us just say that there are a more plot turns and character spins than you can shake a spine-tingling stick at throughout two roughly 60 minute acts of middle American domestic disturbia. I left with the over all feel of having seen a middle aged, live action take on the kind of brash teen horrors typical of the late nineties, filled with cheap but effective scares and frequent whips of humour to keep things moving along. This probably speaks more of my own age and cinematic preferences than the classic noir periods of Hollywood and Broadway frequently referenced throughout Deathtrap, which will have a greater impact on genre fans of that type.
Familiar faces of Albert Square Paul Bradley and Jessie Wallace take the top billing as the married couple at the centre of events. Jessie Wallace gives a solid performance of the disquieted wife to Bradley’s wonderfully sarcastic but volatile failing playwright Sydney Bruhl. Beverley Klein puts in a show stealing OTT turn as crazed Scandanavian pyschic Helga, though I have to call Sam Phillips as the standout performance of this production. His portrayal of Clifford Anderson is spot on, but is again difficult to comment on too thoroughly without over divulging the plot information. Phillips also manages to maintain a convincing and consistent American accent where some other cast members frequently fall short. Julien Ball in the smaller but still pivotal roll of Porter Milgrim ties the ensemble together neatly.
Production design (costume and set by Morgan Large) is initially majestic and also cleverly subtle, leaving plenty of discoveries around the set of Bruhl’s murder-prop adorned writing room for audience members with a wandering eye. Use of old suspense films clips (video design by Duncan McLean) gives a refreshing edge to the scene changes and points should be awarded for minimal but well placed sound (Ben and Max Ringham) and lighting (James Whiteside) effects.
Overall, director Adam Penford has dished up a bit of fun in this entertaining, if ever so slightly hammy play by the suspense powerhouse Ira Levin, whose work is heavily endorsed by chiller master Stephen King among many, many others. King fans might also appreciate the inward looking trick of creepy writers writing about creepy writers. Worth a visit either at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester until 4th November then heading to Birmingham and Richmond.
Reviewed by Jenna Barton
Photography by James Beedham
is at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 4th November then continues its UK Tour