I have to admit it, as I get older, I get more childlike. Which makes going to the panto every year something of a special treat. It’s not often you get to sit in a theatre and scream “behind you” at men in tights on stage. At least not in Southsea, with 400 other screaming kids. So a good panto is something that sets just the right festive tone for me. It feels like Christmas.
The art of creating not just a good panto, but a fantastic one is hard, as Cinderella proves.
You walk a line between playing to the kids and playing to adults. The former means lots of brightness and colour and fun and laughter, as well as a big dash of frolics and frivolity. The latter requires a bit of emotional depth, a coherent plot and a good finale. Playing to the adults can also include (as I recall memorably from a Worthing panto last year) some HOT costumers for the woman dancers, too. It’s a cheat, that one, but it packed the houses – and the dads were extremely well-behaved throughout.
With its lavish sets, its amazing costumes and its well-choreographed set pieces with wonderful sound effects, Cinderella has plenty of the ingredients to keep the kids engaged. But this really is a kids’ panto. The story is simple, a little muddled (introducing the Fairy Godmother early in the plot takes away any surprise when an old lady later on appears who needs Cinders’s help.), but it all muddles along it a breakneck speed.
The performance of Tom Owen (Last of the Summer Wine) as Baron Hardup is warm, likeable and funny, while his wife, played by Leah Beacknell is suitably scary, and sexy. But the pace of the plot means that she is not allowed to really explore her meanness, and we don’t get a full sense of how mean she can be. I suspect her slightly sexy and cruel character has enough chill about it to make her a Bond villainess – but we are never allowed to find out.
There are some really funny lines in the play. When Prince Charming is told “You’re Fattist” by one of the Ugly Sisters, he replies after a moment’s thought: “No, you’re fattest.” And there’s plenty more where that came from.
The sets are extraordinary. It really is like wandering into a Disney cartoon. The village is fabulous, the woodland hunting scenes are fantastic, and the palace wonderful.
The costumes and dance routines really catch the eye. The kids dancing in the woodland scene dressed as rabbits is a hoot, and the dancers in shiny riding gear wonderful.
The kids in fact deserve special mention. A chorus of dancers, some of these boys and girls clearly love the stage. It’s fantastic to see.
And the Ugly Sisters, too, are mean, funny, camp and butch all at once.
All the components for a great Panto are here. The Barbie-like fairy godmother played by Tracy Shaw from Coronation Street is wonderful. But somehow something is missing.
The panto gallops to the end with a breakneck speed, and the finale in the ballroom doesn’t quite happen.
It might be that as the panto goes on, it beds in, but at the moment it needs to slow down in places, take a breath and expand out. Let the kids get breathless and excited. They will do even more, when the actors get more in control of the script.
Would I recommend it as a good night out? Yes, I would. It’s great to see the kids having a fab time. But I also know that this cast could get more out of their performances if they just allowed themselves to breathe.