Second Christmas show of the season and it’s off to the Lighthouse Theatre in Kettering for their production of Cinderella. If the mark of a successful pantomime is how much the children enjoy it, then this one is a winner. I have rarely seen such unbridled delight in a theatre packed with under-10s. Barely any conversation between the characters misses the chance to involve the kids – I’m sure “what do you think, boys and girls?” must be the most commonly found grammatical clause in the script. The little boy to my left spent the evening apoplectic with excitement, and the huge and largely deserved round of applause at the end was down to how much the evening had been geared to the kids.
If there’s a slight reservation about this, it’s possibly that the adults were perhaps not so lured into the script as they usually are in a pantomime, especially in the first half. I feel the key to a really successful panto is that while you’re keeping the children on a constant simmer of entertainment, every so often you need it to boil bubbles of adult innuendo to keep the grown-ups engaged too. A lot of the first half was very scene setting and it wasn’t really until after the interval that the script seemed to remember there were adults present too. Mind you, when the adult innuendo did appear, some of it was delightfully near-the-knuckle; the type that actually makes you catch your breath before you laugh as you remember the family company that surrounds you!
It’s rather a nice joke to have Neil Hamilton as Baron Hardup and Christine Hamilton as the Fairy Godmother. You wouldn’t describe either of them as “actors” per se, but actually their commitment to the show is palpable. CH bounces visibly as an excited fairy who can’t wait to Do Good and is enormously keen to engineer a Happy Ending; whilst NH bumbles ineffectually against the onslaught of the Ugly Sisters, but in a benign sort of way. CH has a smile and an enthusiasm that spreads more joy than you would reasonably imagine, and NH’s interfacing with the custard pie department is both funny on a superficial level and strangely rewarding in a natural justice sort of way.
Tony Howes’ Buttons connects with the kids in a head-on engagement of rude noises, funny faces and playground abandon. I could personally have done with a slightly more sophisticated interpretation of the role – but 200 screaming appreciative kids can’t be all wrong. Millie Banks is a beautiful young Cinders with a great voice and a warm stage personality. She scrubs up well as Princess Crystal and it’s no wonder Prince Charming falls for her.
Cinderella’s vicious step-sisters are played by Stephen McCarthy and Gerry Tebbutt; two delightfully over-the-top performances laced with a dash of utter filth. In fact there was quite a lot of groping going on at one stage, which kind of made me wonder about their moral upbringing. I’m sure at one point one of them referred to their stately home as Hardon Hall by mistake. They pitched the balance of quite hard-hitting brutality and farcical ludicracy very nicely. One of them actually reminded me of one of my old Headmistresses.
In the role of Prince Charming Danny Young just about gets away with it by virtue of his cheeky charm, although he appears to be dressed in a costume way too big for him. I did however like his scene where he danced with all the young ladies at the Royal Ball – mainly because instead of it being a rather formal Cinderella Waltz type affair, it was a cool disco dance that updated it very effectively.
Eurovision’s own Nicki French gives a super performance as a cross-dressing female Dandini who thinks – erroneously – that she might herself be in with a chance to win over the Prince’s heart, and who provided the show’s strongest musical content including the treat that is her version of Total Eclipse of the Heart.
The structure of the show is a little imbalanced as most of the laughs and best scenes are after the interval, which is well worth holding on for. Whilst this is a relatively modest production in terms of staging, costume and effects, it’s bang on the money if you simply want to give your kids some Christmas fun.