Paul Johnson | 13 Dec 2019 13:20pm
Photos: Craig Sugden
The re-opened Fairfield Halls officially opens its first pantomime, Cinderella, this week under a new production umbrella with Imagine Theatre. Not only is the new show a complete and utter triumph, this pantomime in particular may well represent a new era for the genre as I feel like I’m about to eat my words – and that’s not something to take lightly when a comedian such as Tim Vine is around!
At the beginning of the year I visited the Croydon arts centre (at which time resembled a building site) and, at the same time, met with Imagine Theatre. I was sceptical to say the least, especially when it was announced that the panto was being moved from the Ashcroft Playhouse and into the larger Phoenix Concert Hall – a venue impressive in layout, but one that not only lacks a traditional proscenium arch but is also missing any overhead structure to fly-in traditional and essential scenes, backdrops and tabs.
Last night I took Mrs Sardines and Mini Sardines (together with his best friend) to see the show – and what a show it is! Thanks to Mark Walters and Nina Dunn the concert hall stage has been completely transformed to feature a wonderful mix of a sparkling static frame with digitally, vivid, animated programmed backdrops which constantly glitter, move and seamlessly change throughout. The breathtaking design – which even features a clever revolve – is arguably worth the ticket money alone.
All of a sudden all of those wooden and canvas sets, no matter how much glitter they boast, seem old fashioned – and when the town is surrounded by big Qdos pantos in Bromley, Wimbledon, Richmond, Woking… not forgetting the Palladium of course, that’s saying something. This is surely the way forward.
Onstage, directed by George Wood – son of Kevin (First Family) and sister to Emily (Evolution) – and written by Will Brenton, the most traditional of all pantomimes is heavy on story but, at the same time, seems to afford plenty of space for a plethora of jokes and silliness. Aimed firmly at a family audience and younger children there isn’t a hint of smut or innuendo – and it’s really not missed.
Cat Sandion (CBeebies) provides a youthful and relatable Fairy Godmother to the wide-eyed onlookers, while ex-Strictly winner (2016) Ore Oduba revels in his first pantomime as Dandini. Not surprisingly, there are a myriad of Strictly wisecrack for the champion to endure which he does well, as well as busting a few cool moves and showcasing an impressive vocal. But it is probably local comedian Tim Vine who steals the show for me. King of the one-liners, he doesn’t miss a trick to add puns every time somebody opens the comedy door. He even comes out at the start ‘wearing’ an aeroplane saying: “Look at that prop!”
Elsewhere, driving the story, Grace Chapman and James Bisp make perfect Cinderella and Prince Charming – both strong singers with West End credentials. Their rendition of Higher Love is a highlight, as is Sandion and Chapman’s transformation scene where they sing Leona Lewis’ X Factor winner’s song: A Moment Like This.
This leaves Katie Cameron as Baroness Hardup, and her two ‘ugly’ daughters played by regular double-act Jason Marc-Williams (Tess) and Alistair Barron (Claudia). When there’s a wicked step-mother the sisters are often pushed out of the way, but not here; Marc-Williams and Barron get to enjoy plenty of time to thrill the crowds. As for Cameron – an American who understands panto! Perhaps the Hoff has a new rival?
It’s all going on in Croydon and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s current, it’s innovative and MD Steve Clark’s band perched high over the stage makes sure the sound is pumping. The only drawback, which doesn’t threaten the fifth, star is that the audience can see the cast’s shadows as the prepare to come on from stage-right – through the translucent set. But I bet that is being ironed out as I speak.
Cinderella plays in the Fairfield Halls’ Phoenix Concert Hall until 5th January.
More at: www.fairfield.co.uk/whats-on/cinderella
- : admin
- : 12/12/2019