Christopher Lillicrap and Jeanette Ranger
Proper Pantomime Company and Reading Borough Council
The Hexagon, Reading
Thigh-slapping principal boys are rarely seen on stage these days, but two crackers can be found at Reading in the form of Nicola Weeks' Prince Charming, aided by trusty valet Dandini (Sally Oliver).
This is a production full of strong principals who work hard to bring the most popular of panto stories alive for their audience. Weeks, along with Laura Jeffery as Cinderella have some beautiful duets, especially the wisely chosen 'Waiting for a star to fall'; a welcome up-beat romantic number.
No-one is safe from the Uglies, even this reviewer, who, with notebook and pen in hand got a great smacker on the head from Simon Davies as Champagne as (s)he, along with Chardonnay (Charlie Adams) entered singing 'She's so lovely' by Scouting for Girls, or in this case, boys! Davis and Adams work well together, fresh from their 'swish Swiss finishing school', although they could have benefited from some more juicy lines; their most risqué being about the "Prince trying to get it [the slipper] on with everyone."
Traditionalists often bemoan modern pantomime, saying it's not what it once was, but in fact this debate has been going on for over 130 years now. What so-called traditionalists mean is that they want to see pantomime as it was in the Victorian era, before Augustus Harris got his hands on it and imported famous Music Hall stars into the night's proceedings. This production harks back to those days and one could therefore say that Cinderella at the Hexagon is panto in its purest pre-Harrisean form.
Rula Lenska makes a wonderful Fairy Godmother: graceful, loving and kind. A bit out of practise and armed with a broken wand, she calls upon the audience to help her cast that most important spell so that Cinderella can go to the ball. With all this extra help, you'd expect Cinderella's carriage to be outstanding, which it most certainly is.
Although the transformation sequence begins slowly, Cinderella is transported to the ball in a carriage pulled by a winged Pegasus, accompanied by 'Believe in Yourself' from The Wiz; a number which has become synonymous with the transformation sequence. The carriage flies across the stage and out into the audience engulfed in magical smoke. Often productions do not flood the stage fully, revealing the mechanics. This was not the case here and so the magic was kept very much alive.
Buttons is expressively played by Rolan Bell who easily has the kids on his side and manages to get his own back on the Uglies in the slosh scene. You won't see many slosh scenes these days, so it is a real treat to see a messy beauty regime in Reading where avocado eye mousse, banana face packs and ass's milk goes everywhere it shouldn't! This, combined with a hilarious balloon ballet by the Uglies pleased the audience greatly and injected slapstick back into what can sometimes be a sickly-sweet romantic tale.
Cinderella is all about ..Cinderella, however in this production the audience doesn't get to meet her until twenty-five minutes into the show and there's a further fifteen minutes before we're finally out of the forest, having spent forty minutes there. Seeing as it's Cinder's show, it would have been nice to meet her a little earlier; at one point I was wondering if we'd get to meet her at all.
The scenery borrows more from naturalism than Disney cartoons and special praise must be given to Tim Liddle's superb lighting design. Liddle washes the stage with exquisite colour mixes and some extremely effective use of gobos. All important aspects of the plot are accentuated by his design, which really lifts the production a few notches, contributing greatly to the panto magic onstage.
Cinderella is a production full of heart from a team who, rightly or wrongly, keep pantomime very 'traditional' for a modern audience.
Playing until 3rd January 2010
Reviewer: Simon Sladen