Pantomime has come of age since I last experienced the genre. Friday’s press performance of Greenwich Theatre’s Cinderella was a rip-roaringly splendid evening of sparkly drama and belly laughs.
Andrew Pollard, described as “one of the country’s greatest pantomime practitioners” by the British Theatre Guide, is Greenwich’s resident Panto-writer and Dame. This year, Pollard wrote the performance but stepped aside from the acting role. Replacing him were not one, but two magnificently camp gentlemen. Kylie, one of the Ugly Sisters, was played by Anthony Spargo; and Baron Halley was played by Paul Critolph. Spargo’s turn elevated the show from a clever, exciting adaptation, into a grotesque display of comedy genius. With a relish that I last saw on a drag night at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, Spargo oozed slime and sleaze. Offsetting him perfectly was the Baby Jane-esque Myley (Lizzy Drive).
The story is set locally, in Greenwich’s Royal Observatory, where Baron Halley lives with his gentle and wise daughter, Ella (Louise Young). Sadly for Ella, she shares a home with her step-sisters. The sisters’ mother is dead, but they still wield a fearsome power over their sibling, renaming her Cinderella and forcing her into a host of gruesome tasks (bikini waxing being among the most hideous). But, with the help of an elegantly sparkling, blue-haired Fairy Starlight (Michelle C. Hopewell), and the jovially hapless, love-struck Buttons (James Keningale), Cinderella does make it to the Ball. There, she finds her true love, Prince Charming (Michael Lanni), who has switched roles with his suave footman Dandini (Jean-Luke Worrell). It’s Pantomine, so despite Pollard’s clever rewrite of the original Cinderella into an astronomical-themed story, it all ends happily ever after.
Greenwich Theatre’s Cinderella was a good demonstration of just how clever and multi-faceted Pantomime can be. Cleo Pettitt’s design presented a chocolate box of stylistic treats. The range in costumes was large, from the deliciously sparkling dress Cinderella wore to the ball, all peachy glitter and which unfurled cleverly at the wave of the Fairy’s wand; to the Ugly Sisters’ nauseatingly sickly numbers (Kylie wore a trampy dress made out of a ‘PIDL’ Bag for Life in one scene). Juicy embellishments livened up the stage even further. Dandini was stylish, in white Italian loafers whose bows changed colour with every scene. Baron Halley was Marie-Antoinette decadent, all pastel colours and puff. The rotating stage set turned beautifully, and a smattering of special effects added drama – but not so much as to detract from the action.
We watched Cinderella as a family of four, and each one of us found something captivating in the show. My daughter, aged five, loved the harmony and beauty of Cinderella and the Prince’s love songs, as well as their delightful costumes. The two Pantomime naysayers in the family, D, and my son, aged 8, were won over. Buttons, with his cheeky, Cockney charm, engaged my son with his low-level barbs thrown into the audience. (“There’s a little boy over there. He’s picking his nose!”). D appreciated the nods to modern and classic comedy. The Comet, which appeared as a narrator, was reminiscent of the Mighty Boosh’s Moon. The spirit of Morcambe and Wise was in a sketch featuring Buttons and Dandini, who sang together and squabbled over who should lead. As for me: I just adored the splendid camp, and the slapstick.
Cinderella was a wonderful performance, and we’ll be making Greenwich Theatre’s Pantomime a regular fixture in our Christmas schedule. I have no doubt that it must be one of the finest Christmas shows in town.
Cinderella is at Greenwich Theatre from 17 Nov 2017 to 7 Jan 2018. Adult tickets are £29, concessions are £20 and all children’s tickets are half-price. For more information and to book tickets, see the Greenwich Theatre website.
Greenwich Theatre invited us to the press performance of the show for the purpose of this review. All views are my own.