Reviewed – 13th December 2020
“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
Recently reviewed by Ethan:
Tony’s Last Tape
Reviewed – 4th April 2019
“through this richly observed production it’s poignant to realise the heady positions of influence reached by Benn”
It was occasionally said of Tony Benn that he could make something you passionately disagree with sound perfectly reasonable. The charm with which he expresses his controversial convictions has been fulsomely archived in thousands of hours of recordings, nine volumes of diaries not to mention his own one man shows. So, Andy Barrett’s one man play Tony’s Last Tape imagining how the last of Benn’s home recording sessions might have proceeded, sits in a curious space, fictionalising the well-documented. Commissioned by the Nottingham Playhouse in 2015, a year after Benn’s death, it is likely to have originated as a homage and Rachael Jacks’ detailed set design sustains the theory. A loving reconstruction of Benn’s study, featuring a desk covered in papers, pipes and an array of recording devices is surrounded by boxes, cabinets and bookshelves laden with memoirs and projects, all awash with nostalgic blue-yellow light (Martin Curtis).
The portrayal of the doddery 88-year-old himself, in slippers, dressing gown and Poll Tax demo tee-shirt, is affectionate and masterfully delivered. Philip Bretherton manages to capture Benn’s contorted splay of elbows and thumbs as he starts his pipe, the finger-wagging and chin-jutting, to perfection. The script just as skilfully renders Benn’s vocal style, a combination of moral certainty and loquacity. For those unlikely to find time to listen to hours of original ‘Benn tapes’ the play provides a handy biography. Running at seventy five minutes it fits in details of Benn’s private life, the loss of his brother in wartime and his wife to cancer amongst a comprehensive range of his greatest hits, career achievements, memories and meetings by means of an apparently rambling but supremely well-constructed narrative.
Giles Croft’s direction simplifies and amplifies his subject, sometimes reducing him to a sardonic figure, other times hectoring. While it’s possible to suggest that Benn may have ended up privately disillusioned in this way, the script itself doesn’t. Nevertheless, it’s an absorbing show; by accident or design, these performances coincide with daily vilifications of Benn’s modern-day counterpart, Jeremy Corbyn, which add topical resonance to the audience experience. The parallels are unavoidable in their principled dislike of the EU and as well as their subversive style. Indeed, Corbyn was involved in the incident cited in the play where the pair ‘vandalised’ the Houses of Parliament chapel with a plaque commemorating suffragette Emily Wilding Davison.
It remains to be seen whether Corbyn ends up like Benn, a National Treasure, but through this richly observed production it’s poignant to realise the heady positions of influence reached by Benn, despite being reviled.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography by Robert Day
Tony’s Last Tape
Omnibus Theatre until 20th April
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: