Cambridge Arts Theatre
For over ten years Brad Fitt was an integral part of the Cambridge Arts Theatre pantomime. Stage managing, writing, directing and starring as Dame, he drove the show and ensured that all the many traditions of pantomime were kept alive. This year marks his absence from the production and it falls upon resident Comic Matt Crosby to take the reins.
Crosby is a remarkable Buttons. A likeable Comic, he easily builds rapport with the audience, however seems to struggle without a strong sparring partner. His attempt at a slosh scene in Act Two falls flat as Steven Elliot’s Baron Hardup does his best to play along, but the necessary frantic atmosphere for the messy mayhem is never achieved. The scene appears only to be included for tradition’s sake and it seems highly illogical that Buttons would suddenly be awarded a job at the palace in order to make the Ugly Sisters a cake by royal command.
Pantomimes need magic, and this year Cambridge embraces celebrity casting in the form of Sheila Ferguson as Precious Moments, the Fairy Godmother. Ferguson is afforded many a moment to shine through song and indeed her presence dominates proceedings with the Baron dropping in Three Degree song titles whenever possible.
Cinderella’s second act is often problematic as little happens plot-wise, so writers must think carefully about how to extend the two narrative episodes of the ball and shoe fitting. In addition to the act’s slosh scene, the Baron and Buttons form a Three Degrees tribute act along with Ferguson’s Fairy Godmother. Some comedy business on stools and a nod to Morecambe and Wise fills the time as the Royal Ball Cabaret, but it does go on for too long, foreshadowing the slowest song sheet in Pantoland ‘Que Sera Sera’.
As always, the choreography is some of the most refreshing and vibrant on the pantomime stage thanks to Scott Ritchie. This year’s dance troupe is particularly sprightly, but it is a bad decision to let dancer Jordan Laviniere buddy Crosby for the song sheet. Breaking the fourth wall, establishing and maintaining the shared community of Pantoland takes great skill and hard work and as Laviniere has not been a part of this in his role as a member of the ensemble, the children are somewhat bemused by his awkward presence.
New to Cambridge, Andy Spiegel and Adam Price as Beatrice and Eugenie the Ugly Sisters are a delightful pair, although the ticket tearing scene is rather rushed leaving them bereft of mighty boos. Lewis Bradley makes for a dashingly charming Prince and his sidekick Dandini in the form of Rolan Bell reminds us of the part’s roots as the original Comic of the piece. Adding a modern and cool flair to the role, Bell is at ease as the Prince’s equerry and the pairing works well due to the strong contrast between the characters’ personas.
West End star Katie Rowley Jones plays the title role and with a cast full of talented singers, the production does tend to favour song over dialogue, losing its way in the second act due to so many musical numbers and set pieces.
Director and writer Michael Gyngell’s show runs at a great pace, but his script lacks the heart and warmth of previous seasons’ offerings and is a little too knowing. Buttons’ opening spot contains scoffing dialogue about the impossibility of requiring the pumpkin, caged white mice and crystal slipper polish he’s been ordered to get for the Baron and when he warns Cinderella against speaking to the mystical stranger in the forest, Cinderella replies “She’s clearly a legendary soul diva.” Buttons’s rejection by Cinderella is played for laughs and any tenderness is thrown out the window when he sings “I Will Survive” to her after the shoe-fitting; silliness and songs replace sincerity throughout.
A pantomime with plenty of energy and pizzazz, this year’s Cinderella sadly forgets that all important pantomime moral: ‘It’s what’s on the inside that counts’.
Reviewer: Simon Sladen