First Family Entertainment
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
What better way to christen the brand new Aylesbury Waterside Theatre than with the nation's favourite pantomime Cinderella? Billed as "The UK's Biggest and Best £1 Million Panto", the Waterside's inaugural festive show boasts the talents of none other than Miss Cilla Black as the Fairy Godmother.
Black has a long history with pantomime and is credited as restoring the female Principal Boy to the genre, when in 1970 she played the title role in Aladdin at the London Palladium. Having played Fairy Godmother in 2008 in her native town of Liverpool, she reprises the role this year in the theatre just down the road from where she currently lives.
Black is an extremely witty and motherly Fairy Godmother, although it is somewhat odd that she constantly enters Stage Left, when, for tradition's sake, the benevolent Fairy should always enter Stage Right. Of course, with such a star in the role, allusions to her career have to be made and the audience are treated to renditions of her songs 'Sing A Rainbow', 'You're My World', her usual catchphrases and even a Blind Date sequence at the Royal Ball. Whereas such pieces usually appear shoe-horned in and out of place, this is not the case here as, in many ways, Black has played the Fairy Godmother role throughout her entire career and so the references fit perfectly. And what better song for the transformation sequence than 'Something Tells Me (Something's Gonna Happen Tonight)'?
Not afraid to send herself up, Black even holds up a sign stating "That's my song!" when Cinderella, played by Nicola Brazil, belts out 'Anyone Who Had A Heart' to Gary Lucy as her Prince Charming. There is wonderful warmth in Black's performance and she constantly addresses the crowd as if old friends.
As Baron Hardup, Billy Boyle demonstrates that the role can be a rewarding one for an actor and that a part is what you make of it. What makes Boyle's Baron so enjoyable is that he has been given the luxury of musical numbers and even proceeds to tap dance at the Royal Ball. His vast wealth of performance experience is showcased in all its glory and this is certainly one Baron that makes his mark. His rendition of Michael Buble's 'Everything' with Cinderella is extremely tender and demonstrates a strong father/daughter bond.
Eric Potts' script flows along nicely, but some aspects of it have been ignored by director John Bishop and appear to be in conflict with Terry Parson's glittering set. According to Potts, Cinderella and Prince Charming meet at the Goose Fair. However, during this scene no geese are to be found on stage and the 'fair' looks much more like a spontaneous dance in the woods. Potts also gives the role of obtaining the pumpkin, mice, lizards etc to Buttons, but in doing so Cinderella is bereft of the opportunity to venture outside. In a written version of the tale this would not be an issue, but in pantomime it is vital that Cinderella ventures outside as it provides the actress playing the role the opportunity to don a cape, exit and get changed into her ball gown whilst a decoy Cinderella, dressed in the same cape, enters to enable the quick change from rags to riches to occur. To allow for this, Aylesbury's production has Cinderella wandering aimlessly out of Hardup Hall when the magic is about to begin, only to return moments later after an illogical breath of fresh air.
Richard Reynard makes for a chirpy chappy Dandini and, as Buttons, Andy Collins wins over the crowd with his Comic that has shades of the Cowardly Lion about him. The eight strong ensemble execute some of the best choreography this reviewer has seen and the Uglies, played by Chris Dennis and Nick Richards, have the audience shrieking with disgust as they flash their knickers and recreate their pole dancing video on YouTube in order to impress the local totty.
With two consummate and experienced professionals at the helm in Black and Boyle, this Cinderella is full of charm, wit and warmth and a wonderful way to kick off what will be a long line of pantomimes at the Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury.
Playing until 30th December 2010
Reviewer: Simon Sladen