Civic Theatre, Darlington
It isn’t often that the titular character in Cinderella—or any other pantomime, for that matter—is one of the performers who stands out the most. Usually, the role of principal girl (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Goldilocks) requires the actress ‘to do no more than look beautiful and sing well’, as a well-respected theatre critic and pantomime aficionado succinctly puts it. Indeed, principal girl may often be one of the most limiting and thankless roles in pantomime. However, it seems that Emma Stephens may have broken the traditional mould: her Cinderella is young, pretty and innocent—as she should be—but Miss Stephens skilfully ensures that she is also the central character. After all, the show is named after her and the plot revolves around her—why shouldn’t she occupy centre stage? Graciously and skilfully, Miss Stephens accomplishes this feat in a way in which she does not pull focus or upstage her fellow performers, nor indeed the headliners.
In fact, in this production, the stage time is shared out pretty evenly with no single personality dominating the proceedings. The cast, comprising Ray Quinn (X Factor, Dancing on Ice) as Prince Charming, Deena Payne (Emmerdale) as the Fairy Godmother, and Jimmy Cricket as Baron Hardup, all have an opportunity to shine as individuals, as well as in the ensemble scenes. For the most part, it is a strong, cohesive cast with each of the performers suiting their characters well and bringing something different to the proceedings. Ray Quinn does nothing to conceal his Liverpudlian accent, instead choosing to emphasise it and play the Prince as cheeky rather than charming, thus maximising upon the comic potential. Deena Payne’s Fairy Godmother is feistier than one might expect and the role, which is built up considerably to reflect her billing, has her performing a musical number of her own and a couple of duets with Cinders. And Jimmy Cricket is... well... just Jimmy Cricket—much to the delight of the audience.
Adam C Booth, as Buttons, strikes up a great rapport with the kids and capably demonstrates that he possesses the versatility required to do the role full justice, with his singing, dancing, acting and comedy all being first class. Brian Godfrey, as Trinny, displayed his vast and indisputable experience of playing the Dame/Ugly with great aplomb and, in doing so, totally overshadowed the less experienced Darren Southworth’s portrayal of Susannah, though quite unintentionally, I’m sure. The only piece of casting which had me absolutely puzzled was that of ventriloquist Dawson Chance and his puppet Willy the turtle as the Broker’s Men. It should be clearly understood that I make no criticism of Mr Chance, nor Willy, when I say that the roles were completely inconsequential and totally superfluous in that they did nothing to assist the narrative progression. On the plus side, though, the kids loved them both.
Overall, this production of Cinderella is a good one. Michael Vivian’s script provides a faithful re-telling of the classic fairy tale; it is beautifully designed and costumed; there is a nice balance of pop hits and original songs, and the choreography is tight and slick. Qdos may not bestow as big a budget on the Darlington production as they do on the panto in neighbouring Newcastle—for instance we do not have any 3D special effects, nor does an animatronic flying Pegasus swoop over the audience to take Cinders to the ball—yet that is not to the detriment of the show. The pair of Shetland ponies, used to draw the pumpkin coach, delighted both young and old alike and served as an apt reminder that, in this particular panto, it isn’t just the Prince who is charming.
“Cinderella” runs until 15th January
Reviewer: Steve Burbridge