James Barry
Rushmoor Borough Council in association with Hopkins Associates
Princes Hall, Aldershot

Cinderella production photo

Pantomime casts can often resemble a reunion between old friends and with Robert Hopkins, Serena Giacomini, Donovan Christian Cary, Joanna Fussey and Tim Barron together again, this can only mean one thing - it's panto time at the Princes Hall, Aldershot.

Cinderella marks Hopkins' 17th pantomime for the venue and this year's festive offering delivers everything the Aldershot audience has come to expect. Filled with the obligatory panto puns and silly antics, James Barry's script delivers a traditional show, with a few contemporary takes on the most popular of pantomime titles, although his substitution of fire lighters for firewood seems a little odd and unnecessary.

This Cinderella has the luxury of both a Baron and Baroness, allowing for the Ugly Sisters to act as a comedy duo, whilst the Baroness performs the role of Villain. Rihanna (Christian Cary) and Jordan (Alex Scott Fairley) are an outrageous pair of chavvy sisters, who know exactly what they want to hear when asking, "Ain't we just adorable, innit?" Their street language makes them a contemporary comedic pairing full of attitude and Christian Cary delights audiences once again in his full of beans and larger than life cross-dressed role.

As Cinderella, Giacomini plays the role truthfully, with an added touch of confidence. A very forward, yet giggly Cinderella, she stands her ground when needed (apart from in the ticket tearing scene) and isn't afraid to tell the Prince that she doesn't approve of his chat-up line.

Having appeared at the venue in pantomime together before, Giacomini and Hopkins make a lovable Buttons and Cinders duo. Their close relationship is extremely tender and great warmth radiates from such a caring friendship. Particularly touching is when Buttons tries to cheer Cinderella up by creating his own ball and coach ride, executed with real charm by Hopkins. With lots of topical allusions and plenty of audience participation, Buttons' call that "We're all children today" is fully embraced by the audience as they join in with the fun.

The real apple of Cinderella's eye, Prince Charming, is played by Simon Pontin, who makes his Prince rather posh and pathetic, resulting in an abundance of comic moments. As Dandini, Dougal Irvine of Departure Lounge fame reminds us that originally his character was the Comic of the piece, before the precursor to Buttons arrived in 1860. With bags of stage presence and great comic timing, Irvine would make a wonderful Comic himself and perhaps herein lies his festive future, when not busy writing and composing?

Lively numbers are danced by a throng of inters, babes and seniors. It is a treat to see such a large ensemble and this gives the production great energy. Dee West's choreography for the foxhunt is particularly witty and results in the fox getting his own back, whilst the other forest animals - complete with plenty of 'ahhh' factor - protect Cinderella, now in tatters from her night at the ball.

Kevin Andrew has achieved some wonderful lighting effects for the show which contribute to the production's quality feel. Moving-head lights are used most impressively and conjure up some particularly chilling washes for the spooky woods, as throughout the show gobos project pound sterling signs, leaves, fairy sparkles and a bevy of geometric shapes onto the stage and surrounding auditorium.

Cinderella would not be Cinderella without a stunning transformation sequence and it therefore somewhat bemusing that during this key moment 'Defying Gravity' from Wicked is sung, when no such gravity is defied. The musical number sets up the anticipation of flying, which unfortunately only results in disappointment when the suggested special effect fails to materialise. The opening prologue sequence, complete with projection, would also benefit from some underscoring as it appears a little flat when solely accompanied by Fairy Dolores' Fairy Godmother in training narration.

Next year will mark Hopkins' coming of age at the theatre as he celebrates 18 years of pantomime at the Princes Hall. With 2011's production announced as Aladdin, the Aldershot audience are set for yet another year of family-oriented festive fun.

Playing until 2nd January 2011.

Reviewer: Simon Sladen

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