Friday 11 December 2015

Theatre review: Cinderella (Lyric Hammersmith)

It's my annual trip to the Lyric Hammersmith's pantomime, and the third year Tom Wells takes on writing duties (and possibly the last - next year's Aladdin has, bizarrely, already been announced and put on sale, with Joel Horwood back as writer.) But for 2015 it's the story of Cinderella (Krystal Dockery,) the orphaned girl made to cook and clean up after the wicked Madame Woo (Sara Crowe) and her daughters - Cinderella is unusual among pantos in having two dames, the ugly stepsisters Booty (Matt Sutton) and Licious (Peter Caulfield.) Her only friend is Buttons (Samuel Buttery,) and her only hope of escape is the ball held by Prince Charming (Karl Queensborough,) to which everyone in Hammersmith has been invited. Her stepmother will do everything she can to stop Cinderella going to the ball, but she does have one last magical ally who'll make sure Cinders gets her prince.

Fairy Godmother (Debra Michaels) is one day away from retirement, but her former goddaughters include Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Clare Balding so she's confident she's got one more success story in her.

As usual, the panto stalwarts all get ticked off (shout-outs, sing-alongs, a Scooby Doo chase scene, the dames flirting with an audience member and eventually bringing him up on stage to sing,) but although there's still a couple of moments where Wells' retro musical taste is apparent, there seems to be a particular focus on recent pop songs this year - Prince Charming opening the dance with Jess Glynne's "Hold My Hand" is a highlight, while there's a good gag with the inevitable appearance from Adele's "Hello," and the call-and-response with the audience is Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk." In fact that's pretty much the only call-and-response, which is an improvement - the last couple of years every character seems to have had their own, and the audience has struggled to remember them.

The script is once again packed with filthy jokes aimed to barely go over the kids' heads. There may not be a protagonist who can get the audience to scream out "Dick!" like last year, but when Cinderella is told by Woo she can't go to the ball, she does an entire song about how you can live a perfectly happy life without balls. Director Ellen McDougall fortunately hasn't brought her minimalist aesthetic with her this time, so among the colourful sets (by Oliver Townsend) costumes (Katie Lias) and props we get Cinderella and Charming going fishing together and being joined by the denizens of the river - including a dancing shopping trolley (they also catch crabs together.)

Dockery is a likeable Cinders although she doesn't quite dominate the stage yet, while casting Buttery Biscuit gives an extra little gag to Buttons searching for his Voice. The real revelation is Queensborough though, a panto natural as Prince Charming (a hard name to live up to; he'd rather be called Prince Harry, the expectations are lower.) Funny, unselfconscious and energetic, his jelly-legged dancing is a sight to behold. Wells' writing will be missed but for now the Lyric's panto remains on top form.

Cinderella by Tom Wells is booking until the 3rd of January at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including interval.

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