Cinderella – A Tale of Cinderellaland
Chris Abbott | 21 Dec 2016 10:10am
There are a few pantomime authors who are particularly popular with amateur societies, some of them deservedly so, but this does lead to over-familiarity for a reviewer who sees many pantos. It was a delight, therefore, to see in advance that Cinderella: A Tale of Cinderellaland by Putney Theatre Company was a new script written by members of the company. What was presented to an enthusiastic audience was a mostly successful attempt to rethink Cinderella, greatly enlivened by two performers in particular among a large cast.
Set in the rather unimaginatively-named Cinderellaland, the story takes place in a time of austerity which is vaguely modern-day, going on most of the costumes, although Prince Charming and Dandini still wear Eighteenth Century dress as usual. Sets were adequate though basic and mostly grey, leaving plenty of room for the cast of 23 which included a lively and well-choreographed chorus, the choreography from Shakira Hilton being a real strength of this production.
The script uses rhyme when it is traditional to do so and is generally clear on the narrative despite introducing a number of sub-plots such as Dandini’s passion for fashion and Buttons’ love for a melon-seller. This is all the more remarkable after reading in the programme about the process involved in putting it together, as there were five authors.
One of the writers, Simon Herd, also wrote the attractive and apt music and presumably he was responsible for producing it on the night too as no other musicians were listed in the programme. The lack of a large live band did mean however that the cast could sing without amplification, which they did very well. Tom Sainsbury directed the show, having also been involved in the writing team, and he produced a vigorous and good-natured production which was around the right length and gave every opportunity to the various cast members.
As the Sisters, Brian Statton and James Mbanefo were nicely contrasted and quickly got the audience on their side, the evil aspects of their characters having been transferred in this production to their mother. Their slapstick scene, an original take on the usual setup, worked well and was greatly enjoyed by the over-excited youngsters in the front row. Emma Fleming made the most of her few opportunities as Cinderella, as did Frederick Thomlinson as Prince Charming and Romeo Kabanda as an original and amusing Dandini.
Among the many smaller roles, Alison Roux as the Queen and Josie Murphy as the Evil Stepmother both drove the narrative well and commanded the stage with ease and confidence. The two performers who carried much of the show however, in their different ways, were the two who, quite rightly, led the singalong near the end. As Fairy Godmother (from “Wands”worth), Kirsty Harrison was a delight: eager to do well and ambitious for her fairy promotion. This was an impressive performance by an engaging actor.
The evening belonged, however, to Rufus Cooper playing Buttons. Warming-up the audience before the show began, he managed the difficult feat of enthusing the adults and calming the over-excited children, though I will draw a veil over the moment when he spotted your reviewer sitting alone (as we do) and attempted to pair me up with another audience member… Whether driving the narrative or interacting with the audience, this is an actor who oozes pantomime credibility, particularly adept at ad-libbing, and giving a high-energy performance from before the show began, and he was the last person to be seen at the end.
Tom Sainsbury and his team are to be congratulated on creating a new pantomime about which I have only a few reservations. It is not a good idea, for example, in a show attended by children, to show a character disabling someone’s phone by swallowing the SIM card; some children love to copy what they have seen. The melon gags were very tired and came far too often, and the “nasty turn” lighting and sound change was mildly funny once but led to a succession of silent tumbleweed moments on the later occasions when it was used, again and again. The adults in the audience got the repeat gag of the comically racist King being an echo of the Duke of Edinburgh, but the children just found themselves being asked to laugh at a lot of jokes about (European) foreigners; an unfortunate situation. The first act also ended on a rather downbeat note rather than with a rousing number or a transformation.
On a more positive side, there was a nice running gag about Cinderella being a mathematician and I really liked the idea of a Mini Buttons in the audience looking after the slipper. It was good to see a panto horse and I liked the idea of it speaking (from both ends!) but I didn’t think the gag worked any more when the performers’ heads emerged from the costume. There was a nicely irreverent tone to the script, with Cinderella stroking a cute mouse and then losing interest and throwing it offstage. The audience enjoyed an apple being turned into an iPhone by the Fairy Godmother, and Cinderella’s ballgown arriving from above in a Harrod’s bag. The ball attended by a complete mixture of characters gave some acting opportunities to chorus members, always an important consideration in an amateur panto, and I enjoyed the horse arriving in disguise as a cow. Well done to all concerned; I look forward to an original take on another traditional panto at Putney next year.
- : admin
- : 20/12/2016