“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
“it is impossible not to enjoy all the good humoured larking about in this production”
Imagine a gritty Cinderella set in a northern karaoke pub, and you have the premise for Not Too Tame’s version, written by Luke Barnes, and directed by Jimmy Fairhurst, of the perennial pantomime favourite. But that’s where the similarities end. In this decidedly grown up interpretation, Barnes has chosen to keep only the barest outline of the story, and ditch the magic. So Cinders is a charmingly downtrodden barmaid struggling to keep her dead father’s pub afloat. She is assisted in her endeavours by her best friend Mike, a nod to the fairy godmother role in the original story, but here a working man’s silver lamé wannabe drag queen who MC’s the music. Her evil stepmother, named Judy Garland here, and her two brash stepsisters, Simone and Garfunkel, leach off the labours of the pub workers, and dream of turning a tidy profit from a gastro pub instead. There is a Prince Charming, but he is a “fit” young man with his own ideas about how to exploit his “princess”. And Buttons is a neglected dog with thoughts of
suicide. Poor Cinderella, however is she going to extricate herself from this working class nightmare, and live happily ever after?
There are a lot of good performances in this production, although the singing, with the exception of Lizzie Hopley channeling the divine Judy, is for the most part uninspired. But what the cast lack in musical big moments, they more than make up for in spot on northern accents, comic shtick and spirited interaction with the audience. Patrick Knowles, as Buttons the dog, is a wonderful comic talent who keeps the action from sagging into gloomy exposition as he sprints around the house doing his best to avoid the inevitable bath. Cinders’ sisters, the inexplicably named Simone and Garfunkel, and played here by Louise Haggerty and Megan Pemberton, provide just the right amount of nastiness mixed in with hilarious turns as divas in training. These sisters may be terrible husband hunters, but Haggerty and Pemberton are particularly good at finding audience members willing to go along with their backchat and banter. And Jimmy Fairhurst, as the aforementioned Mike, holds it all together as he schemes to get Cinders to the party in a suitable dress. It’s really only Rosa Coduri, as Cinderella, dressed in jeans and an ugly Christmas sweater (why?) and Jack Condon, as Prince Charming, who struggle in poorly adapted roles. Coduri comes into her own at the end of the show, however, when she sends the upwardly mobile Charming packing, and decides that running the pub with her friends (and her dog) is the happy ending she’s been looking for.
For theatre goers who prefer their pantos traditional, with lots of magic and outrageously pretty costumes, Barnes’ adaptation of Cinderella will come up short. Nevertheless, it is impossible not to enjoy all the good humoured larking about in this production. And if you stick around after the show you will have the opportunity to get stuck into some serious karaoke.