I never quite know how to feel about pantomimes. On the one hand I’m a total sucker for the festive joy, the corny jokes and the true spectacle of it all. On the other hand, when you’re no longer the 10-year-old who laughs every time someone ‘accidentally’ falls over, you start to realise that its actually really hard to do panto well; but from the moment the curtain rises on the gorgeously jovial set of Cinderella and a twirling group of beautifully costumed (and, in fact, just beautiful) people, I know I’m in for a treat.
Of course, the first requirement is that every ingredient in the panto recipe is there and Cinderella supplies these abundantly. There’s cheering, there’s booing, there’s kids up on stage starting sing-a-longs, there’s even frequent, perhaps overly frequent, interactive dance breaks–the fact that I can still remember every move to ‘I like to move it, move it’ 24 hours later might honestly be more of a cause for concern than a sign of enjoyment. It’s very much your classic pantomime.
There were some truly fabulous performances amongst the cast although my first mention must go to the ensemble, comprised of both adults and children. The adults were consistently impressive in musical numbers, adding that little extra something to the main performances and the children were frankly just adorable. We were also treated to not one but two dames (Wayne Sleep and Matt Crosby) in some of the most grotesque and yet spectacular outfits I’ve ever seen (the candelabra is a particular highlight). Both were comedic powerhouses in the way they shamelessly flirted–although I honestly don’t know if it can be called flirting when it’s that explicit–with an unsuspecting audience member in the front row.
Buttons (Isaac Stanmore), the sweet, long-suffering page to Cinderella’s father was also delightful and had me feeling genuine sympathy, while still chuckling away when he was rejected by the angelic Cinderella (Charlotte Kennedy). Kennedy herself and her romantic interest Prince Charming (Emily Squibb) were also well played although on the whole unremarkable as is expected of a pantomime.
There was an overarching sense, however, that much of the cast had the talent and ability to be a lot funnier than they were. The short bursts of ad lib, often thanks to a particularly adult innuendo, and the bouts of physical comedy were very welcome. Overall, however, it felt that the script somewhat let the cast down by not placing enough faith in the audience. Innuendos were often followed by unnecessary explanations of the intended joke and instead of being woven cleverly into relevant dialogue, the corniest jokes were delivered in quick, desensitising succession.
This is not to say that Cinderella isn’t hilarious, and woe befall any reviewer who comments on the quality of a Pantomime plot, but I was left with the feeling that there was a lot more to be had out of almost every actor. Perhaps all they need is to be given the freedom to play around more on stage. As an audience member, I can guarantee that we were definitely up for a lot more off-the-cuff style humour.
The costuming and set for Cinderella were perhaps its crowning glories. It completes the spectacle with awe-inspiring glitz and glamour. With endless numbers of quick changes of both costume and set, colour and decadence of every kind abounded. Sue Simmerling and Carry On Costumes are to be congratulated on their beautiful work. Recently I have been privy to shows that really have outdone themselves in terms of technical theatre and so it takes quite a lot to elicit an audible gasp but that little 10-year-old girl inside of me had her jaw on the floor when the fully functioning animatronic flying horse and carriage lifted Cinderella into the air. The magic of theatre (and indeed of Christmas) doesn’t really get any more magical than that, in my opinion.
As pantomimes go, Cinderella is pretty much everything you, and your children, could ask for. It’s certainly not ground-breaking but when you’re doing a pantomime the well-trodden road is often the most desirable. Regardless, I left in high spirits, supported by the myriad giggling kids I passed on my way out and, at the end of the day, isn’t that what pantomimes are really about?
Cinderella is playing at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until January 11. For more information and tickets see the Cambridge Arts Theatre website.