Pantomime Reviews: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Mother Goose and Snow White

Cinderella at City Varieties
Cinderella at City Varieties
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Cinderella: The Rock n Roll Panto

Leeds City Varieties

Liz Coggins

Last year the City Varieties broke with tradition and staged its first rock n’ roll panto. But where Aladdin succeeded beautifully in its transition to this ground-breaking style, Cinderella fails miserably.

The story of Cinderella is one of pure magic and an experienced cast of pantomime favourites, especially in the comedy department, is needed to carry it off.

While this production has a highly talented energetic cast of actors who sing and play musical instruments, most of the time it just doesn’t tick the right pantomime boxes. It has a distinct lack of comedy timing that makes gags seem overly long. Some of the most appealing moments of the story – the kitchen scene with Buttons and Cinderella and the sisters getting ready for the ball – pale almost into obscurity.

Cinderella is not a show for young children but will certainly please mothers, fathers and grandparents with its 60s and 70s music ranging from Rock Around the Clock and Downtown to Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? and more than its fair share of double entendres.

Kenny Davies’s Buttons doesn’t really get the opportunity to develop his character to its full appealing potential nor did he get chance to build up a rapport with the audience. High energy but rather aggressive and frightening at times Dan De Cruz and Peter Peverley as the “uglies” have a difficult job and seeing them de-wigged in garish makeup, playing instruments is rather weird.

If you’re looking for a show this Christmas, where the emphasis is on the music and they won’t mind you dancing in the aisles – Cinderella: The Rock n Roll Panto is for you.

Until January 13.

Sleeping Beauty

Grand Opera House, York

Liz Coggins

More of a fairytale drama, it is not an easy task to give Sleeping Beauty the full pantomime treatment but the Grand Opera House have pulled out all the stops.

Sleeping Beauty, with its beautiful storybook sets and lavish costumes, is packed to the brim with side-splitting humour, glamour and lots of audience participation. It’s a fast-moving, pacy production with some great musical arrangements and imaginative and exciting choreography. The jokes may have whiskers on “Where is Hadrian’s Wall?” – “Round Hadrian’s House” and there’s the inevitable “it’s behind you” ghost gag and in-your-face custard pies, in fact all the things one associates with traditional pantomime.

Heading the comedy line-up is Matt Dallen as Chester the Jester, a bundle of energy with great comedy timing who the children just love. Veteran comedian and “pensioner”, as he describes himself, Syd Little as King Egbert proves you’re never too old to play pantomime to perfection.

As Carabosse, the villain you love to hate, Deena Payne is evil personified while Carly Nickson is a scatty and down-to-earth fairy who manages to retain that air of magic that the tiny tots love.

Sleeping Beauty doesn’t have much scope for the dame but Richard Stride as Queen Gertie the Gorgeous really comes into his own in the school scene. If you love to hiss the baddie, cheer the fairy and shout out till you are hoarse and enjoy the magic of pantomime, then Sleeping Beauty is for you.

To January 6.

Sleeping Beauty

West Yorkshire Playhouse

Sally Hall

Mike Kenny has once again infused a kids’ classic tale with his unique charm and wit to create a magical family theatre experience. This sleeping beauty (Natasha Magigi) is no simpering blonde, mooning about the castle waiting for her prince. She’s a rambunctious giggler, charging about the battlements on her scooter and insisting on some time to travel around the world before settling down into matrimony.

The wicked fairy is also given a twist. In fact, she’s not really a fairy. Mike Kenny drew inspiration from the Russian entry for Eurovision in 2012, the Babushkas, to create the Nannas – a mash-up of fairies and wise women who knit the plot and weave the tale.

Bitter because she’s never been thrown a party herself, Nanna Sandra (Celia Adams) curses the princess to an early death – but immediately regrets her impetuousness .

Once made, the curse cannot be unmade, so the other Nannas work to soften the blow… but only Sandra can put it right in the end. Sandra is present all the way through, her twisted emotions lending some psychological weight to what is, otherwise, a fairly flimsy tale. There is perhaps less narrative mileage in the story of Sleeping Beauty, less opportunity for fun and frolics, than in other tales produced by Mike Kenny and Gail McIntyre for the Playhouse. But the imaginative staging more than makes up for that. Production designer Barney George must have recruited half of Leeds to get busy with the knitting needles. Wool is used throughout as prop, costume, and plot device. The briars, lit up with fairy lights as they descended from the rafters, were an enchanting touch.

To January 1.

Mother Goose

The Spa Theatre, Scaborough

Liz Coggins

Mother Goose is one of those pantomimes that’s rarely staged nowadays and it takes a brave management to pull it off. But pulling off the impossible is what Tony Peers Productions are good at and this pantomime is no exception.

A difficult story to tell convincingly with the logistics of the magic pool and the portrayal of a cute and loveable goose, Linda Newport’s production is a shining example of pantomime as pantomime was meant to be.

It’s fast, it’s furious and full of vitality with bags of audience participation and side-splitting comedy from the moment the curtain rises. Couple this with an eclectic mix of music, superb choreography and a hard working talented cast and you have pantomime perfection.

The title role is often regarded by panto dames as one of the most difficult to play but Ian Moore captures both the brash-but-homely comedy and pathos of the role. He comes to terms beautifully with age and ugliness – although a little more glamour is needed when he emerges from the magic pool.

As Moore’s sidekick Dale Ibbetson as Silly Billy is outstanding – where does he get his energy from? Together they make a dream team of comedy that both the children and parents love. The evil element comes from Katie Gregson as Victoria Vanity whose cut-glass diction, glamour and acting prowess give her just the right mix of nice-but-nasty.

Completing the cast are Rebecca Christian, a vivacious Jill, Charlotte Buxham a magical Good Fairy and comedy duo Phil Beck and Paul Ludlow as the henchmen. Mother Goose has no big names but it’s exactly what its billed to be, a fabulous family pantomime and well worth a trip to the seaside to see it.

To January 1.

Snow White

Doncaster Civic Theatre

Liz Coggins

David Lee has dedicated his production of Snow White to the king of pantomime, impresario Francis Laidler.

As a tiny tot I remember the magical experience of a Laidler pantomime.

His pantos were truly special, relying on the spectacular fairytale element rather than the brash in-your-face humour of the Emile Littler pantos at the Moss’s Empire down the road.

According to Lee, he provided audiences with a couple of hours of fun and laughter and an escapism from a world which was not much fun – just what his production of Snow White is trying to do today.

It sticks faithfully to the original tale, but is top heavy with overly long dialogue, which tends to slow the pace and not having a dame to hold the comedy and plot together is a big mistake, as Laidler always used the country’s top dames in his pantos.

The comedy rests heavily on James Percy as Muddles, a young comedian who literally drives the show. Appealing to the children and with a great talent for repartee, his entrances ignite the show when its beginning to flag.

Snow White has a plethora of original songs that give it an extra dimension especially when they are sung by the handsome, swashbuckling Prince, Ben Palmer, who has an amazing vocal range.

As the Wicked Queen, Kay Purcell doesn’t really seem to get the grips with the character until the final 30 minutes, she’s just not the pantomime villain that the story demands. Nigel Peever as the Tax Collector has a difficult role, slipping between comedy and evil, which is at times confusing, but carries it off to perfection.

With a childlike and fine voiced Snow White, Leah Murphy and, of course, the loveable Seven Dwarfs bound together with great live musical accompaniment and dynamic choreography,and maybe a few dialogue cuts, this family pantomime is bound to be a winner with Doncaster audiences.

To January 6.
Also Booking: Babes in the Wood, Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond, to January 5, 01748 823710. Cinderella, Wakefield Theatre Royal to January 13, 01924 211311.