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Cinderella: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto

Peter Rowe
City Varieties Music Hall, Leeds
City Varieties Music Hall, Leeds
to

I’ve seen a lot of pantomimes over the last few years, but never one of the rock ‘n’ roll variety. Since 2011, Leeds’s beautiful City Varieties Music Hall has offered festive frolics with a groovy twist: when the actor-musicians aren’t playing their parts downstage, they’re playing instruments in the house band upstage.

The other big difference between this Cinderella and other pantomimes is this one doesn’t feature a dame. However, since this stock character tends to dominate proceedings whenever she appears, this means that the other characters are given more of an opportunity to shine. Baron Hardup (Dyfrig Morris) gets the chance to tell the sort of dad jokes that make audiences squirm with embarrassment, and the Ugly Sisters—Verruca (Scott Haining) and Hernia (Matthew Hinchcliffe)—get to wear outrageous costumes and deliver risqué one-liners.

Peter Rowe’s script preserves the main outline of the classic fairy tale, but also makes a few pleasing adjustments. In this version of Cinderella, the title heroine (Grace Lancaster) is less of a wet blanket than other incarnations and her Prince Charming (Alex Wingfield) is more of a goofball. In fact, he’s a bit useless when it comes to girls and has to get pointers from self-styled rock lothario Dandini (Tom Connor).

There’s still an evil stepmother, but in this production she’s a gold-digging mail-order bride, Rubella de Zees (Katia Sartini), who hopes to marry off one of her revolting daughters to the handsome prince. Fortunately, Cinderella has her trusty sidekick Buttons (Kenny Davies) and Fairy Godmother (Rachel Nottingham) fighting her corner.

There are dozens of pantomimes to choose from over the Christmas period, but Cinderella: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto has plenty to recommend it. The City Varieties Music Hall, built in 1865, is one of the most beautiful theatres in the country and this production is enhanced by the venue’s cosy atmosphere and Victorian trappings.

The performers are terrific, wringing every laugh they can from Peter Rowe’s witty script. Dyfrig Morris is hilarious as the clueless Baron Hardup, the only one who fails to see through his evil bride-to-be, and he forms a cracking double-act with Kenny Davies’s loveably daft Buttons.

Katia Sartini is a fabulously wicked villain and her daughters, played with gusto by Scott Haining and Matthew Hinchcliffe, score many of the evening’s biggest laughs. Their rendition of “It’s Raining Men” was a particular highlight.

Cinderella and Prince Charming are often the most boring characters in other productions, but Grace Lancaster and Alex Wingfield lend warmth and charm to their roles, meaning that we actually care about their relationship. Completing the cast are Tom Connor as Dandini and Rachel Nottingham as the Fairy Godmother, both of whom get the chance to display their considerable vocal chops.

I doubt that many of the children in the audience will be familiar with the pop and soul classics performed by the band, which include such hits as “Shake a Tail Feather”, “Tears of a Clown” and “Everybody Needs Somebody”, but the songs are performed with real oomph. At the very least, I’m sure all the adults enjoyed them.

Judith Croft’s eye-catching set makes great use of the theatre’s narrow stage and her rockabilly-inspired costumes provide a pleasing twist on panto fashion. Jason Salvin’s lighting and Tom Blackband’s sound design both enhance the production’s cartoonish feel.

Pantos often struggle to appeal to all members of the family. Too much innuendo and the show goes over the kids’ heads. Too much adolescent humour and the show risks irritating the grown-ups. Cinderella: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto gets the mixture just right, resulting in a show that will delight parents as much as their children.

Reviewer: James Ballands