Friday, 7 December 2012

Theatre review: Cinderella (Lyric Hammersmith)

I'm not really much of a pantomime connoisseur, not having grown up in the UK and never having had a reason to get into them since moving here as an adult. Having a December birthday, in the last couple of years I've tended to celebrate it with a trip with friends to the Stag's smutty adult panto, but with that venue closing (although as it turned out its panto will still go ahead; look out for a review in a couple of weeks' time) one of the more traditional, family shows looked like providing an alternative. In the last few years, the Lyric Hammersmith has really made a name for itself with its quality pantos, but there was an extra reason this year's Cinderella became a must-see: Steven Webb has become a fixture of the Christmas show there, and this year he was joined, in her first ever panto role, by musical theatre star (and original West End Kate Monster in Avenue Q) Julie Atherton. Atherton is always worth seeing, let alone teaming her up with Webb - the two are friends, and used to entertain themselves by doing things like this when they shared a flat. In a theatrical style that thrives on improvisation and corpsing, putting the two of them on stage together should be a fun recipe.

With Webb's long-standing relationship with the Lyric panto, his Buttons is placed more than usual at the centre of Joel Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm's retelling of the fairytale. Here Buttons is a fairy who's lost his wings thanks to the machinations of the wicked stepmother Ms Hardup (Mel Giedroyc - one of my only disappointments was that the inevitable "soggy bottom" joke got rather thrown away) and to get them back he has to help Cinderella (Atherton) achieve her destiny. Actually Webb and Atherton don't spend as much time together on stage as I'd expected, because to supplement only having one friend in the world, Cinderella has also drawn a face on a pumpkin; and to Buttons' annoyance, she seems to enjoy the pumpkin's company more. But even if the leads aren't together on stage that much there's nothing to disappoint in this frantic, very silly show that really does seem to have struck the balance of having something for every age group. In among the singalongs, throwing sweets and gunge fights there's a lot of digs at the news, including a clearly recently-added reference to Kate Middleton's morning sickness.

As for not going to the "adult" panto on my birthday, this regular one had almost as much smutty material to go over the kids' heads. There's many a reference, of course, to how impressive the Prince's balls are, and Cinderella being sent off to collect firewood leads to a recurring "got wood" reference; but I think the biggest one they got away with, judging by the audience's reaction, was the Prince (William Ellis) complaining that the girl he was waiting for hadn't come to the ball, and Dandini (Sophia Nomvete, also doubling as the Fairy Godmother) replying that some women never come at all. Giedroyc's Bride of Frankenstein-haired Ms Hardup relishes the baddie role and the boos, as well as a little flirtation with the drummer in the orchestra ("he's naked, you know. Naked and splayed.") Flirting with one particular audience member, meanwhile, are the ugly sisters Ugger and Munt (David Ganly and Hammed Animashaun,) who also get stuck with Webb in a big, and particularly slippery, gunge fight, and who in Tom Scutt's simple, fun designs also get in visual gags about Madonna's conical bras and Lady Gaga's meat dress.

As for the leads, Atherton is a charming Cinderella whose literal two left feet not only provide the story's denouement but also a couple of very funny dance sequences; she also gets a couple of opportunities to break out her impressive singing voice, including a rendition of "All By Myself" accompanied by a very silly visual pun. Nomvete also gets a couple of opportunities to show off her pipes. Meanwhile Webb shows why the Lyric keeps bringing him back by marshaling all the insanity of Sean Holmes' production like a pro - Penny commented several times on how good he is. He gets stuck into the singing, dancing, slapstick, double entendres - every different element of the show basically, keeping the energy throughout, right up to the climax which, given he's been recast as a fairy who needs to get his wings back, culminates in a version of Little Mix's "Wings."

In a stroke of bad luck, the biggest Julie Atherton fans in my group, Andy and Evil Alex, had to drop out of coming along; and as a result I had quite an eclectic group that ranged in age from Vanessa's teenage daughter to Ian, who was born in the year of our lord 1496. Everyone found something to like in this very entertaining panto, which doesn't let up for a second.

Cinderella by Joel Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm is booking until the 5th of January at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes including interval.

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