“The amount of sexual innuendo in that show was ridiculous,” came the exit poll verdict from a fellow theatregoer as we filed out of Cinderella at the London Palladium. The age guide for the first panto for many years at this theatre is that it is unsuitable for the under-fives. It was not so much the innuendo itself that leads me to think the age recommendation should be raised by a few years. It was the barrage of questions of the youngest members of the audience gave their parents at the interval, and I can only assume similar conversations took place on the way home. The 10.30pm finish makes this show longer than Wicked or Les Miserables, to give an indication of the stamina required to make it through the show, whatever one’s age.
Where to begin? The set is altogether glamorous, and the costumes often eliciting whooping from the audience, especially the dazzling attires of Dandini (a crowd-pleasing Julian Clary). The lighting is incredible and the special effects a wonder to behold: from what I could deduce, the same or at least similar technology to create the magic carpet ride in Disney’s Aladdin over at the Prince Edward Theatre is in use to get Cinderella (Natasha J Barnes) to the ball.
There’s a lot of ‘celebrity casting’ going on, and though the likes of Julian Clary and Paul O’Grady (the latter playing Baroness Hardup, best described as the one you’re meant to boo at) have incredible stage presence, they are granted parts in musical numbers that are theirs because of the way the narrative is structured. However, they are, to be frank, not the best of singers, a point only highlighted all the more when the likes of Barnes, Lee Mead (Prince Charming – who else?) and Paul Zerdin (Buttons) are in full flow in a modified rendering of ‘Love Changes Everything’ from Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love. They do at least make up for it in an incredible ability to ad-lib, sending both the audience and – every so often, their more theatrical co-stars – into cahoots. They literally stop the show.
Zerdin, permitted if not positively encouraged by the creatives to retain the services of Sam, his sidekick puppet through which his ventriloquism skills are displayed, indulges in some hilarious audience interaction. In true pantomime style, some fortunate or unfortunate soul in the front row is almost relentlessly picked on and name-dropped. Mead was able to relive a past experience by reprising ‘Any Dream Will Do’ from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and a running gag involving Nigel Havers (Lord Chamberlain) being in an underdeveloped role elicited both sympathy and yet more laughter.
The musical numbers are highly varied. When Baroness Hardup (boo!) turns away from being evil, she does so in an evangelical sense, and a catchy gospel number is the end result. Elsewhere, disco numbers in the style of Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical set pulses racing, Amanda Holden’s Fairy Godmother is vocally varied (and not always in a good way), and it’s Suzie Chard’s Verruca and Wendy Somerville’s Hernia, the two (somewhat) ugly sisters, that remain consistently engaging.
Though the plot has no surprises whatsoever, I would have liked a bit more of the traditional call-and-response that pantomime is famed for. Instead, this production has O’Grady barking that three repetitions of ‘oh yes…’ is quite sufficient, thank you very much. At the performance I attended, sections of the audience even tried to insert an ‘oh no…’ where one could have feasibly been placed – the Lord Chamberlain and Baron Hardup (Steve Delaney as Count Arthur Strong – don’t ask) power on with their dialogue regardless. They could have indulged their paying public just a little bit. Oh yes they could.
It is Andrew Wright’s choreography (and co-direction) that raises the strongest audience reactions, both in the grand ball scene, and later in an Act Two comedy number about what various principals in this cast would do for a living if they had to have a vocation outside the entertainment industry. Greg Arrowsmith leads a talented and enthusiastic orchestra, bringing extra sparkle to proceedings. Look out, too, for Tiller girls, making a London Palladium comeback. It’s silly, it’s daft, even a tad erratic. I would have thought the pantomime purists will not be entirely happy with this production, but that doesn’t stop it from being a gloriously lavish, delightful and spectacular show. Worth seeing.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The most enchanting rags-to-riches fairy tale of them all graces the stage of the West End’s most famous theatre this Christmas as pantomime returns to the London Palladium for the first time in nearly 30 years.
With an all-star cast, this lavish and spectacular production features sumptuous costumes, magnificent scenery and the unmissable and magical breath-taking moment when Cinderella swaps her rags for a stunning Ball gown and is transported to the Prince’s Ball.
The 32 strong Cinderella cast at the London Palladium will be led by Paul O’Grady as The Wicked Stepmother, Julian Clary as Dandini, Lee Mead as Prince Charming, Paul Zerdin as Buttons, Nigel Havers as Lord Chamberlain and Count Arthur Strong as Baron Hardup. Suzie Chard and Wendy Somerville take on the roles of The Wicked Stepsisters, with Natasha J Barnes as Cinderella.
The cast comprises Paul O’Grady (Baroness Hardup), Julian Clary (Dandini), Amanda Holden (The Fairy Godmother), Lee Mead (Prince Charming), Paul Zerdin (Buttons), Nigel Havers (Lord Chamberlain), Count Arthur Strong (Baron Hardup), Natasha J Barnes (Cinderella) and Suzie Chard and Wendy Somerville (The Wicked Stepsisters). They are joined by Liz Ewing, Christopher Howell, James Paterson, Carrie Sutton, Vicki Lee Taylor and Ed Wade and ensemble members Rhianne Alleyne, Charlotte Alloway, Gianni Arando, William Atkinson, Pamela Blaire, Myles Brown, Lucy Carter, Jacob Fearey, Diana Girban, Chloe Hudson, Emma Johnson, Ricky Lee Loftus, Holly Prentice, Niall Swords, Luke Woollaston and Tom Woollaston.
Cinderella is produced by Nick Thomas and Michael Harrison for Qdos Entertainment. Directed by Michael Harrison and co-directed and choreographed by Andrew Wright, Cinderella is designed by Ian Westbrook with costume designs for Paul O’Grady, Julian Clary and Amanda Holden by Hugh Durrant. Lighting design is by Ben Cracknell with projections by Duncan Mclean, sound by Gareth Owen, musical supervision and orchestration by Gary Hind, musical direction by Greg Arrowsmith and visual special effects by The Twins FX.
Cinderella at the London Palladium
8 Argyll Street, London, W1F 7TF
Age Restrictions: As a general guideline an age of 5+ is recommended. Children must be able to sit unaided, in their own seat and be attentive to the performance so as not to distract other members of the audience. Admittance to the auditorium is at the discretion of the theatre management.
Show Opened: 9th Dec 2016