at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch
for The Reviews Hub
“Well it's good, but it's not what I'd call traditional ...”
Soundbite from the little old lady just along the row. She has a point.
Andrew Pollard's script has more than a few novel touches. Baron Hardup has expired, leaving his wicked widow free to bully poor Cinders unchecked. Cinders herself is feisty and forceful (and in this company plays a mean trombone). Hard to imagine her knuckling under for long, and indeed she does turn on her tormentors before the happy-ever-after ending. The ugly duckling turns into a bevy of swans to pull the pumpkin coach. No riches to rags transformation, very few pyrotechnics, some witty cultural asides, and the jokes a mixture of the amusingly original and the junior school playground. And, surely a first, the panto song is that old Pat Boone favourite Quando Quando Quando.
But there's a proper staircase for the walk-down, a traditional ghost routine (done to the Ghostbusters theme), and an opening number in the village square featuring the Young Company, one of three teams of ten local children.
Martin Berry's production, a little coarse and raucous for some tastes perhaps, keeps up an energetic pace from the off, only some of the longer songs slowing the action. Most of the numbers, though, were apposite and excellently delivered by the talented company of actor-musicians, with Joshua Goodman the MD. Christina Aguilera's Words Can't Bring Me Down, for example, Dreamgirls' One Night Only or Adele's To Make You Feel My Love, with a great fiddle obbligato from Dandini.
Jonathan Charles is superb in this often thankless role – a poor Italian immigrant, reeling off a stream of Italian names, playing his violin and teaching his master the art of love before changing identities, in a very thin disguise, with Sebastian, aka Prince Charming of Chelmsford (Jamie Noar). His Cinders is played with gutsy charm by Natasha Lewis, with some outstanding vocals, too.
Buttons, the Justin Bieber of Romford, is Alex Tomkins, playing on the sympathy of the audience, and rewarded by an invitation to join the happy couple in their new life together. The Fairy Godmother, her wand a silver flute, is beautifully spoken by Etisyai Philip.
The trio of baddies – all firmly rooted in Essex – are Kylie amd Miley, ugly sisters (Carl Patrick and Simon Pontin) and the Baroness, Hornchurch regular Georgina Field squeezing every last drop of evil from her role, and proving a fine saxophonist to boot. The trombone/sax face-off one of many inspired moments in this innovative production.
Mark Walters' design is sparkly and pretty as a picture-book. His costumes range from the cygnets' feathery drawers through the elegant gowns for Cinders and the Good Fairy to the OTT creations for the Sisters: designer handbags, Christmas gift-wrap, and, cleverest of all, the cocktail dresses.
Shouting out advice, encouraging bashful Buttons, screaming out that Behind-You “meta-theatrical rubbish”, the opening night audience of “children and coffin-dodgers” loved it all, from the “sniffle-stopper” - an ingenious tissue dispenser projecting loo-rolls over the front stalls – to the giant beach balls for the megamix party finale.
production photograph: Mark Sepple