Paul Ferguson
Hazlitt Arts Centre and Blue Genie Entertainment
Hazlitt Arts Centre, Maidstone

Jimmy Burton-Iles (Tulisa) and Peter Brad-Leigh (Cheryl)
Chris Edgerley (Buttons) and Ensemble
Chloe Madeley (Cinderella) and Ensemble

The Ugly Sisters are difficult characters to crack. They constitute the villains in Cinderella, but as the often only cross-dressed roles, they also share similarities with the Dame in that comedy arises from their masculine demeanor. Blue Genie Productions have assembled a solid cast at the Hazlitt Theatre, Maidstone and one in which the Ugly Sisters shine.

Together for the first time in Pantoland, Peter Brad-Leigh and Jimmy Burton-Iles's Cheryl and Tulisa tread that fine line between comedy and villainy perfectly. Their entrance has the audience howling with laughter as they insult the audience with as much spite as they hurl abuse at each other.

Brad-Leigh's Cheryl is a gurning delight, whose mere facial contortionary has the audience in stitches before a change in tone has them booing their hearts out at the gruesome twosome's nasty antics. Snide, silly and saucy, as Tulisa, Burton-Iles delivers his lines with a naughty wink and, along with Brad-Leigh, the dastardly duo steal the scene be they in the wood, ball or encouraging Dandini to take his top off.

As the object of their hatred, Chloe Madeley's Cinderella is a bubbly Principal Girl with a real zest for life, much like her best friend Buttons. In the role of Comic, Chris Edgerley oozes boyish charm and silliness and just like his fellow performers, knows when to work the material for laughs and when to elicit heartfelt sentiment.

Strong singing is provided by all the cast, with musical numbers a lively reminder of recent chart hits. Christopher Chandler's Prince has a charming voice and paired with Danny Young's firecracker of a Dandini the two achieve the contrast required in the roles, even if Chandler's Charming is a little too smug at times.

Jemma Harris's unusually wingless Fairy Godmother starts proceedings off nicely with her sparkling voice introducing the age old rags-to-riches story and as Cinderella’s dad, Michael Coghlan partakes in a good old game of ‘Bash the Baron’ in a rendition of the '12 Days of Christmas' which even sees the balcony taking part in the toilet roll dash.

Rob Forknall's direction ensures the material zips along, although Buttons’s opening spot does cause the show to stall slightly due to a large amount of text from writer Paul Ferguson. Alison Hefferon's choreography makes good use of the Babes, whilst her Ensemble comprising Jamie Leigh Nelson, Christina Kerridge, Jamie Body and Matthew Frost constitute that rarity in pantomime: smiling individuals with personality.

With so much life on stage it is a shame that the show's lighting works against the atmosphere created by the cast and that the Ghost Gag’s state is the same as the show’s happy opening. Likewise, the musical numbers’ witty new lyrics, which help drive the narrative and provide more information about the situation and characters, are sometimes drowned out by the band in yet another example of over amplification this season.

With each act an hour long, the Hazlitt's Cinderella has perfect timing providing opportunity for every member of the cast and ensemble to shine, whilst sending audience members away with wintery smiles on their faces.

Reviewer: Simon Sladen

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