Eric Potts
First Family Entertainment
Richmond Theatre

Richmond Theatre Cinderella

Following last season’s sparkling Sleeping Beauty, this year’s Cinderella glistens and completes a run of female led narratives started at the theatre in 2009 with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

A wonderful fairytale romance, Richmond’s Cinderella is full of charm. In the title role, Kellie Shirley is a beautiful Cinderella with a fine voice who easily falls in love with the dashing Elliot Harper as Prince Charming. The two have great chemistry and perform their roles in the true spirit of pantomime without lapsing into sickly sweetness.

In Eric Potts’s version of the tale, the lovers meet during the Forest Festival as a strong team of dancers leap their way through the clearing. The dancing creates a caesura between various episodes of dialogue, but talented as the ensemble are, their constant swirls as the music swells become rather repetitive and leave the scene feeling as though it may never end.

Woods are magical and mysterious places in Pantoland and in Cinderella they are where the Principal Girl’s kindness is tested by the Fairy Godmother. In her first pantomime role, Jenny Eclair makes for a majestic benevolent agent with her regal voice guiding Cinderella on her way as she narrates the story. Much more comfortable delivering her couplets than participating in the production’s dancing, she commands the audience’s attention, but her Fairy is not as eccentric as one might expect. It is a great shame that her strict rhyming couplets make it almost impossible for Eclair to ad-lib or feed off the audience as she would in stand-up and her entrances severely lack the usual smoke and pyrotechnics associated with the role.

As Cinderella’s best friend Buttons, Gary Wilmot fills the auditorium with laughter from the moment he appears. After a game of ‘Ok? Alright!’ the audience are proudly members of his gang and enjoy a rendition of ‘When I Was Young (The Pirate Song)’ during the songsheet. Wilmot’s natural warmth and talent for comedy means that he possesses the ability to make even the oldest of gags, such as the Sticks Routine, feel fresh and with his strong musical theatre background he is afforded the song to send Cinderella on her way to the Royal Ball.

Act Two is rather slower than its Act One counterpart, mainly due to the narrative comprising of only the Royal Ball and subsequent shoe fitting. The Act begins excitingly with Ben Redfern as Dandini singing ‘Be Our Guest’ in fine voice and full of energy, but then slowly fizzles out as the Busy Bee Routine is used to fill the time. The Echo Gag and an It’s-Behind-You sequence complete with abseiling arachnid follow, but the latter doesn’t quite work due to the stationary nature of the spider once flown in from the flies.

Scarier than any ghoul, however, are Cinderella’s Ugly Sisters Beatrice and Eugenie played by Graham Hoadly and Paul Burnham. Both could win first prize in a gurning competition with their rubbery faces and contorting cake holes and achieve grotesque and gruesome in fine measure. The best Sisters are always polar opposites and the comedy value of Bunrham’s squawkish flamingo against Hoadly’s gruff bulldog is a fine example of strong casting from producers First Family Entertainment.

Robert Aldous is a lovable but slightly bonkers Baron and the band under the musical direction of Matthew Shaw ensures that everyone goes home with a smile on their face after an exuberant Blues Brothers finale to accompany Terry Parsons’ tangerine dream costumes and set.

With real Shetland ponies, snow and lots of sparkle, Cinderella is a sumptuous pantomime that would put anyone in the festive mood ready for Christmas.

‘Cinderella’ plays at the Richmond Theatre until 15th January 2011

Reviewer: Simon Sladen

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