“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
“a play that leaves its audience with such an infectious sense of joy”
A Christmas Carol – it’s a story many of us know so well. Based on Charles Dickens’ novel, the Watermill Theatre’s Christmas production is a charming and moving retelling of the famous tale. “A story is a candle in a dark place,” begins our narrator moments before the candle floats in front of us. We are assured that this tale will be a magical one. When Scrooge’s long dead business partner appears in his bedroom, weighed down by chains, he tells Scrooge that three ghosts will come to him, the ghost of Christmas past, present and Christmas yet to come. Across the course of the evening, Christmas Eve to be specific, the three ghosts visit the miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge to show him what life lived in greed will bring him, and to remind him of how he became the man he is today . This is a story of the human capacity to change for the better and it is a heart-warming watch. Danielle Pearson’s adaptation, directed by Georgie Straight, pivots around this sense of a second chance. It is a touching and universal story, full of the harshness of life and the joy of it.
The show is a two-hander, and our two actors Pete Ashmore and Tilly-Mae Millbrook handle their many parts with ease. Ashmore’s Scrooge undergoes an incredibly moving transformation, from the gruff, merciless man we first meet to the joyfully energetic and generous figure the play ends with. Millbrook as the Narrator is warm and playful, bringing the audience into her tale. Between them they also play everyone else, made unrecognisable by a change of accent and a floral scarf. Designed by Emily Barratt, each costume detail denoting a different character is vivid and sufficient.
The set, which features dark bricks and hanging washing, is designed by Isobel Nicholson. A piano is disguised as Bob Cratchitt’s desk branded with Scrooge and Marley’s sign. Several of the ghosts are created through set – a lantern reimagined and a cloaked shape falling from the ceiling. Creating such a multi-role show with only two actors could have proved a real challenge, but the show has been conceived in such a way – through script, costume and design, that we never want for more actors than we have onstage. Clever sound design by Tom Marshall creates the sense of bustling streets and heightens each ghost’s arrival. Harry Armytage’s lighting design is equally clever: two windows at the back of the stage are lit and filled with silouhettes from the cobwebs of Camden to groups of party guests gathered together.
The show is punctuated with beautiful harmonised renditions of classic Christmas songs which the actors sing and accompany themselves, on violin, clarinet and piano. Both are accomplished players and Ashmore’s violin playing is particularly impressive and evocative.
Every element of this show is lovely, well made, detailed, delivered by a faultless cast and creative team. The Watermill Theatre handles the Covid-19 restrictions fantastically and patiently, and it is a pleasure to be back in a theatre again, especially to see a play that leaves its audience with such an infectious sense of joy and the possibility of human nature.