Arc Theatre at the Broadway, Barking
We're all living in Hardup Hall these days; arts venues know this better than most.
And to be honest, Cinderella at the Broadway has shoestring written all over it.
That said, it's a brave, and mostly enjoyable, attempt to keep the panto flag flying in this multi-purpose community venue.
Director Carole Pluckrose, making her first panto, seeks to create an original piece of musical theatre, "woven through with all the recognisable delights of panto". Indeed the music, in the experienced hands of Barking veteran Phil Gostelow, is an undoubted strength of the production – a succession of singable, melodic numbers embracing a variety of genres: chirpy Tommy Steelery for our pearly Buttons in A Little Bit Of Mischief, Lionel Bart lite for If I Was A Lady, Lloyd Webber for the dry-ice love duet and a cheeky nod to David Rose and his Stripper for the Clenchbutt sisters and their raunchy fashion parade.
More disappointing is the staging – I like the idea of the revolving mini trucks, but the execution is frankly amateurish, and the black tab curtain does nothing to enhance the mood.
Some good costumes – Rubella's lady-in-red dress, the headgear for Nefaria and Lascivia. But not everyone can run to a change for the wedding, though I liked the two-sided suit for Dean Kilford, who plays twin brothers Buttons and Dandini.
The seven principals work hard; because of its musical comedy ambitions, Clifford Oliver's script gives them several contrasting styles to cope with. Dandini and his Prince have a retro feel to them, with nicely judged dialogue, and the best [or worst] line in the show from Dandini as he advises his master how best to meet the girl of his dreams: "You could try holding one of your balls, sir …"
Sharif Afifi is a charmingly clueless Prince, with a pleasant light singing voice; Kilford is excellent as his batman, with his stash of spare moustaches; his alter ego Buttons enjoys most of the interaction with the noisy audience. An original take on the local council's Fairy Godmother by Sally Fisher, nicely down-to-earth and just a tad incompetent.
Barbara Jaeson makes a cold, steely stepmother; her Act One costume continuing the period theme. Andy Gillies, a punkish big-boned bruiser of an Ugly Sister rather overshadows her rival, Ian Crowe; both performances are suitably bold and brash. And a brilliant début for young Amy Green, in her first professional role, as Cinderella.
The pros are ably supported by an eight-strong juvenile chorus. They certainly prove their worth, shifting the scenery, singing and dancing, even delivering some dialogue. All very polished, especially perhaps Sam Willmore [the night I saw the show] as a knowing, confident Spud.
Some good effects ingeniously done – the wobbly flashback, the transformation, with Cinders' dress changed in a shower of gold. But, for a panto, and probably for a musical, there was too much dialogue, and the kids might sympathise with Lascivia as she shouts "Don't start singing again!" And as for sniffing the slipper …