First Family Entertainment
Opera House, Manchester
Cinderella is an age old pantomime which is delivered in a traditional style by the First Family Entertainment Company for Manchester's Opera House. It is a skilful blend of story telling and different comedic devices with all the expected and well loved favourites in evidence: Cinderella, Baron Hardup and the Ugly Sisters, Prince Charming, Dandini and Buttons. The jokes are balanced between the very oldest chestnuts and wise cracks trading on the fame of the various celebrities in the cast. There is much physical comedy and audience participation and plenty of singing and dancing.
Cinderella was well portrayed by Tina O Brien as a girl from " Chorlton on the Cobbles ". This was a reference to her background as a Coronation Street star as well as to that of her colleague Johnny Briggs who was an effective Baron Hardup. And on Press Night the audience was clearly filled with their former colleagues. Manchester Local Radio Presenter Mike Toolan made a stylish stage debut as Prince Charming and Richard Reynard was a feisty Dandini with a fine vocal talent.
Bernie Nolan as the Fairy Godmother had the best singing voice on the stage and was genuinely entertaining when she sang her selection of songs and, in particular, Not while I 'm around from Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. The other songs were effectively performed, if not always exactly scintillating, and included standards such as Together as well as recent pop songs such as I don't feel like dancing by the Scissor Sisters.
Audience participation and comedy business were generally well judged. In the Twelve Days of Christmas patter song four cast members had to perform the twelve gifts. Though this timing went spectacularly awry it did not take a jot away from the audience's enjoyment. The performers shared the evident mishaps in true panto style and carried off the song with aplomb. The inevitable look behind you moment was well done and in fact was a where is Cinderella? Answer: locked in the cupboard.
Steve Walls as Buttons generally hit all the right notes and made an appropriate way in to the story. However this reviewer was less comfortable with his routine which featured four young children from the audience. It was a piece of participation which might have worked better in a former more innocent decade but which risked sailing onto very thin metaphorical ice. This was particularly so when he asked one child to mime shaking her bottom as her movement in the If you're happy and you know it tune.
Roger Kitter and Steve Luck as the Ugly Sisters were occasionally a mite too dark. This was excusable given that they were the only obvious baddies on the stage in the absence of a wicked stepmother in this telling of the story. However they did make a fine connection with the audience with their big big hair, massive fake bosoms which occasionally travelled, thick make up and outrageous feather boas in clashing colours. Some of their comedy was a little over the heads of the children and veered towards the smutty and an end of the pier show style. But they got plenty of laughs from their routines which included a very silly buzzy bee rhyme skit which was an excuse to spit water at each other. This was tailor-made for the many children in the audience who lapped it up along with the water pistols sequence performed by Buttons and Baron Hardup.
The costumes and set designed by Terry Parsons had a cartoon feel to them and were very well done. They married a traditional style with more modern flourishes. Some of the costumes put this reviewer in mind of a Dickens classic serial. The men wore colourful frock coats, stockings and shoes with buckles or knee length boots. Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother wore hooped dresses in true panto tradition.
There were plenty of distinctive reds and golds and Cinderella's ball gown was a lovely pink and silver creation. The transformation scene at the end of Act One was cleverly realised with the dancers in giant animal costumes well deployed by choreographer David Lee. The fly away scenery and appearance of a real donkey to pull the carriage were beautifully timed. The tableaux with snow falling was particularly moving and the Roman Candles in the production's lavish finale were another spectacular coup.
The dancers were all well disciplined and added plenty of sparkle and energy to the show and especially the juvenile villagers in their cream pantaloons and bright red shirts. Pantomimes can sometimes be a bit of an ordeal for any grown ups in the audience, including the representatives of the press. However this reviewer found plenty to please. Under the expert direction of Ian Masters the whole cast seemed to be hugely enjoying themselves. This and their energy communicated itself to the audience and helped to make the show such a success.
"Cinderella" runs at the Opera House in Manchester until 6th January 2008.
Reviewer: Andrew Edwards