Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
Cinderella heralds the dawn of a new era of pantomime in Canterbury. For the past two years, Evolution productions has been forced to stage its festive shows in a theatrical tent, but now it's time to lap up the luxury as the doors to the new Marlowe Theatre are well and truly open.
As soon as Sue Devaney appears fluttering from the flies like a fluffy pink marshmallow, the audience knows it is in for a good time. Devaney’s Fairy is a joyous bundle of eccentricity and the audience is more than happy to join in the fun as they help the Fairy Godmother get the pantomime started by completing her rhyming couplets.
Returning to Canterbury for his third pantomime in the Cathedral city is TV favourite Stephen Mulhern as Buttons. Mulhern is an excellent pantomime performer who fully understands the importance of not only acknowledging, but involving the audience at every possible point in the pantomime’s narrative. His cheeky schoolboy Comic summons fits of laughter from the audience with his silly voices and facial expressions, but Mulhern also appreciates the importance of contrast, managing to summon heartfelt ‘ahhhs’ when rejected by Cinderella.
Paul Hendy’s scripts are always strong on comedy and this year’s Cinderella is no exception. Peppered with puns, the production is a gift for great comic actors such as Ben Roddy, who is on top form as the Prince’s valet Dandini. During the ball sequence, Roddy and Devaney host their own version of Strictly Come Dancing as Sir Bruce Forsyth and Tess Twice-Daily. Bouncing off each other whilst indulging in an array of quick-witted ad libs, their ballroom cabaret is a riot and makes Mulhern’s magic card act appear rather disappointing.
Absent from this year’s proceedings due to ill health, Canterbury legend Dave Lee may be gone, but he is certainly not forgotten and there is a nice nod to him during the much loved Ghost Gag. Replacing Lee in the role of Baron Hardup is Siôn Tudor Owen. A dead-ringer for Brian Blessed, Tudor Owen looks set to burst with energy as he skips, hops and trots across the stage adding a somewhat manic flair to this usually sedate fatherly role.
In the title role, Kate Quinnell makes for an enthusiastic Principal Girl who exudes warmth from the moment she sets foot upon the stage. However, as the story dictates, this happiness does not last long, and before Cinderella knows it her wicked step sisters have returned from France and are ready to make her life a living hell.
As Beatrice and Eugenie, Michael J Batchelor and Ian Smith have some of the quickest changes in Pantoland this season and easily summon boos as they force Cinderella to tear up her ticket. With frocks for every occasion, their final comeuppance is a nice touch and depicts a stark contrast to the garish gowns they are accustomed to.
In Canterbury, Cinderella and the Ugly Sisters must compete with the mums in the audience for Prince Charming’s attention and at times it is almost impossible to hear John Partridge’s majestic royal due to relentless screaming. A strong leading man, Partridge’s musical numbers are sung with emotion, crispness and clarity and he appears to be thoroughly enjoying every moment of his pantomime debut.
In his 17th Canterbury panto, musical director Chris Wong has pulled out all the stops with some of his band appearing in the audience and on stage during an extremely warm welcoming overture. Musical numbers drive the narrative with integrated scene changes helping to keep the show flowing. This, combined with lighting designer Mike Robertson’s array of colourful washes and clever use of gobos and gauzes, makes 2011’s Cinderella a visual and aural feast.
Cinderella marks the new Marlowe Theatre’s inaugural pantomime and what better way to celebrate than with this stunning show? A master in the form of panto, Hendy has once again created a wonderful production full of magic and mayhem.
‘Cinderella’ plays at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury until 22nd January 2012
Reviewer: Simon Sladen