The tale of the beautiful waif abused by stepmother and stepsisters might seem typical of our English fairytale heritage, but, in fact, it dates back more than a thousand years and had roots in China, Egypt and Renaissance Italy prior to it's adaptation for the early 19th century stage. Taking this history as a license to make a few creative adjustments to the narrative, director Dan Jemmet has set this production in a dilapidated fairground where Cinders is the 'guttersnipe' forced to clean the helter skelter with a toothbrush and paint the roller coaster with her stepmother's blusher brush. Her father, Bullet, was literally precipitated into the great beyond when his circus act backfired (no pun intended). He was shot from a canon into outer space and is presently in orbit around the moon.
This naughty, vibrant and heart-warming production could be subtitled, a new way to play old clichés, and, after all, that's exactly what we love most about Christmas shows: parodying the genre, finding witty and inventive ways to laugh in recognition at the clichés. It does have a few weak moments in the first half that slow down the pace, but when it picks up it is full of fun, robust performances and throaty songs. The massive helter skelter towering into the flies makes for some interesting entrances.
Jemmett and the cast who devised the staging have used this innovative setting for a fresh new range of gags and even a contemporary political allusion. The fairground has a new owner. Prince Pedro de Gonzago II, grandson to the 'prince' of circus acrobats, has inherited the fairground he has never seen and intends to demolish it to make way for a multilevel car park. So, Cinders is a modern day heroine. Yes, Cinderella you shall go to the ball, with the magical help of an aging hippy, mechanical fortune-teller, Madame Zarastro. You will also lose your slipper in flight. The prince will fall in love with you, but you will also have to save the fairground and the prince himself from the evils of modern property development. And, the naïve prince is a more interesting than the traditional romantic goody-goody in tights; in the final scene some of the audience accorded him the round of playful boos that are traditionally reserved for the villain.
There is an apt, but unobtrusive moral here, though there usually is in Lyric Christmas shows. The fairground must survive, because it stands for life it all its joy. It is the home of social underdogs threatened by the ills of the modern urban environment.
This is an accomplished cast. Di Sherlock as the Russian stepmother Ludmila Bulochka blends Ruby Wax with Edith Piaf, but has a redeeming chink in her armour. She genuinely misses her Bullet, still circling the moon. Geoffrey Carey as Madame Zarastro is a wacky fairy godmother. Javier Marzan brings all of his superb and consummately physical comedy (he is half of the comedy duo Peepolykus) to bear as a delightful prince, full of dreams and innocence in a pin-stripe suit and Buddy Holly glasses. Wouldn't any woman yearn to save his handsome soul? But the true stars of the show are the ugly sisters. Antonio Gil Martinez and John Ramm have blown new life into the traditional pantomine dame routine with their circus antics, sibling tussles and pratfalls galore. You have to wait until after the interval for the frocks, but what frocks!
A very enjoyable Christmas show easily eliciting laughter but replete with the warmth and tenderness appropriate to the season of goodwill.
Reviewer: Jackie Fletcher