Photo: Pamela Raith
My first 2018 pantomime, as always, sets a high standard for the rest to meet. Paul Hendy’s take on Cinderella glitters (often literally) with high production values and enough innovation to make it feel fresh without denting the traditional flavour.
This Cinders, for example (Cara Dudgeon) is a feisty feminist and there are a lot of quite funny stereotype-busting jokes in the first half hour or so. She fails to keep it up once she sights Oliver Watton’s Prince Charming but it doesn’t matter much in this context. Dudgeon, incidentally has a fine singing voice and is a vibrantly accomplished dancer. We also get a pair of exquisitely cute white Shetland ponies to pull the carriage, a stunning aerial turn by Duo Fusion (Connor Byrne and Tiffany Gaine) and excellently choreographed (Jono Kitchens) dancing by a team of eight professionals with a small group of local children. Then there’s the very talented child, said in the script to be aged eight, who chips in with terrific flair and aplomb. She is not credited by name in the programme so presumably there is one who can carry this off in each of the three rotating children’s teams.
The best thing of all in this show is the skill with which Ben Roddy and Lloyd Hollett, both Marlowe regulars who are known and loved by the audience, work together as the ugly sisters. They simper, mince, flirt with the audience and play off each other perfectly – two men who’ve worked together many times before and know exactly how to nuance every word and every toss of the head. Watching them is like a panto dame-ing masterclass.
Phil Gallagher is a reliable Buttons with all the right insouciance tempered with a bit of pathos and Harry Reid’s gor-blimey Dandini from Gravesend is good value. The local jokes, as always at the Marlowe, come thick and fast as the script pokes gentle fun at most of the other local towns.
There are, however, a few things in this show which are not quite right. It is a directorial misjudgement to run the aerial sequence while Dudgeon and Watton are singing. Both pairs deserve full focus. Neither should act as an accompaniment to the other.
Chris Wong’s band does its usual excellent job. He is a breathtaking guitarist so when he stands on the main stage to play a sort of showpiece cadenza it should be for more than a few bars. As it is there is barely time to register what he is doing before he is gone – an opportunity thrown away. And I won’t dwell on the weak singing by several cast members because, in the context of this high octane show it didn’t distract much. Suffice it to say they were evidently cast for their other skills.
Generally though this is a panto which zips pacily along managing to be wittily subversive without ever resorting to smut and that makes it a bit of a treat.
Photo: Pamela Raith