“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
“With its creative and production heft, this will undoubtably be around a long time”
Born in ancient Egypt and delivered via an unconventional route, this new work from the creators of Wicked (Dreamwork Theatricals) arrives kicking and ululating in the mighty palace of London’s Dominion Theatre. Having first been an animated feature film, this is the story of Moses told with a lot less religion and a lot more bromance, tracking the relationship between young Ramses and his foundling sibling as they grow close, then apart, then further apart.
A thrillingly executed chariot race kicks off an evening of peerless creative arts, from choreography to video projections, from wardrobe to set design. Then, as Ramses (Liam Tamne) steps up to fill the Pharaonic boots of his father Seti (Joe Dixon), Moses heads the other way down the pecking order, by falling for an enslaved dancer, Tzipporah (Christine Allado). Exile ensues as he pursues her into the embrace of the desert-based Midianites, a blissful commune lead by the genial Jethro (Gary Wilmot) who teach him how to dance in 5/4 time. After meeting up with his previously lost family, in particular sister Miriam (Alexia Khadime), Moses realises his identity and takes up the cause of those Hebrew slaves still slogging themselves to death on Ramses’ pyramids.
Enslaved to an unwieldy source, the script by Philip LaZebnik suffers under the strain, with wars and plagues, exile and deliverance having to be explained through the eyes of two brothers in the few gaps between 25 musical numbers. With so much work to do in a small space of time, some lines edge beyond parody. “Moses!! I haven’t seen you in a long time” says Rameses as if spotting a mate in McDonald’s when Moses returns from exile to let his people go. “How did you let the people go?” complains High Priest Hotep (Adam Pearce) as if the multitude escaping was equivalent to losing your Oyster card. However, it does the job of keeping the action and effects speeding along, especially in the second half with plagues being visited with exhilarating brevity. Hotep is no sooner popping open his vestal top to reveal boils than meteors are descending on the backdrop. But this is all, as intended, creating a thundering, crowd-pleasing display, that bears little analysis (should we really applaud a plague?) but gives excellent opportunity for some impressive visuals. The design team in particular (Kevin Depinet’s set, Mike Billings’ lighting, Jon Driscoll’s projections and Chris Fisher’s illusions) create spectacular landscapes, pyramid interiors and Red Sea partings.
Great effort too has gone into Stephen Schwarz’ reworking of his own score. Best known for Wicked and Godspell, here his music and lyrics wrestle absorbingly with the constraints of Egyptian-sounding cadences (courtesy of Hollywood’s biblical blockbusters) and lilting Yiddish melodies, while blending in some old school rock opera and, inevitably, the saccharine sound of Disney Musicals. The cast is universally highly competent as you might expect, the dancers all limb-perfect in service of Sean Cheesman’s superb choreography. With the two leads perhaps lacking enough contrast, only Alexia Khadime truly soars vocally, but Christine Allado and Gary Wilmot join her in managing to project a third dimension to their originally two-dimensional characters. With its creative and production heft, this will undoubtably be around a long time, but doesn’t have the heart of a Lion King.