Kenneth Alan Taylor
Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company
The Royal Wedding earlier this year has given birth to myriad Cinderellas this season. Many of them are, of course, peppered with references to Will and Kate’s big day, but the Nottingham Playhouse has achieved something incredibly spectacular: a pantomime more magical and sumptuous than the Royal Wedding itself.
Cinderella is probably the best known fairytale in the world and Kenneth Alan Taylor’s version adds extra sparkle and a few surprises to this all time favourite, much helped by Tim Meacock’s glittering sets which have used ten kilos of the stuff.
There are two defining moments in the pantomime Cinderella: Buttons’s revelation of his love to the Principal Girl and the transformation sequence. Both are executed impeccably in the Playhouse’s production and should be consigned to the history books as the definitive way to approach both scenes.
As Buttons, Adam Barlow understands the importance of pathos in comedy. When rejected by Cinderella, the audience really feels his pain. This heartfelt episode is lovingly tender and the choice of ‘Wouldn’t it be Nice?’ as accompaniment inspired. Under John Morton’s musical direction, the number adds pure emotion to the scene, much like the use of ‘Pure Imagination’ for the transformation sequence.
The Fairy Godmother has very little to do in the first act of Alan Taylor’s Cinderella and does not deliver the usual pantomime prologue; instead we first meet her as an old hag in the forest. When she begins to cast her spell to send Cinderella to the ball, the subsequent sequence is an impressive feat of design and direction ingenuity as flames engulf the scullery and give way to a crystal carriage and ponies.
Cinderella always causes problems for theatres with a strong Dame, but it’s not an issue for the Playhouse, which this year boasts three in the form of Dowager Duchess Devilla and the Ugly Sisters Bella and Donna.
John Elkington is on fine form as Ugly Sister Bella and along with Anthony Hoggard as Donna provides much of the piece’s comedy. Particular highlights include lunges in luminous lycra, diva-esque disco dancing and a squeaky clean song sheet. To say anymore would spoil the surprise.
With an opening line of “I’m back” Jeffrey Longmore returns to the Playhouse stage as Dowager Duchess Devilla, Auntie to Cinderella and home to look after Hardup Hall whilst the Baron’s away. Having a wicked Baroness means that the Uglies take control of the comedy, but Longmore fans need not worry, the Dowager still has plenty of fun and looks eerily like Her Majesty in the second act when there’s a nice nod to the Grimm tale, even if it does go on for a little too long.
This year each member of the cast has appeared in at least one Nottingham Playhouse pantomime before and it is easy to see why the theatre would ask these talented individuals back; they truly believe in their characters and deliver each line with sincerity and honesty. The cast also adheres to one of the most important rules in pantomime – never ignore your audience, and there isn’t a five minute period in the show’s two and a half hour run without some form of interaction. All call outs are acknowledged and, when appropriate, responded to, thus not only helping to strengthen the established shared community of Pantoland, but also contributing towards the thrill of the unique event.
A truly magical pantomime, the Nottingham Playhouse’s Cinderella is full of heart and would surely receive the royal seal of approval should the Queen herself ever be lucky enough to see it.
“Cinderella” plays at the Nottingham Playhouse until 14th January 2012.
Reviewer: Simon Sladen