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Buttons: A Cinderella Story at the King’s Head Theatre

(c) Bill Knight. Left to right_ Ellie Sanderson-Nash (Cinderella), Matthew Kellett (Buttons), Catrine Kirkman (PC Pumpkin), Emily Cairns (Dandini), Jennie Jacobs (Prince Charming), Jamie Barwood (Betty).
(c) Bill Knight. Left to right_ Ellie Sanderson-Nash (Cinderella), Matthew Kellett (Buttons), Catrine Kirkman (PC Pumpkin), Emily Cairns (Dandini), Jennie Jacobs (Prince Charming), Jamie Barwood (Betty).

To misquote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), when this production was good, it was very, very good, but when it was bad, it was horrid. Thankfully, Buttons: A Cinderella Story has more good elements than bad, all things considered. The script has some glorious moments, but even in front of an unassuming opening night north London audience, some of the punchlines fell a bit flat. At least they were delivered well. And, as ever with shows that rely on some degree of audience participation, sit on the front row at one’s own risk. Well done to the person who practically almost shoved their companion onto the stage instead, even as they were almost being dragged.

I realise I have made things sound a lot more aggressive and confrontational than they really were: they are a friendly bunch, really, and even the antagonist Prince Charming (Jennie Jacobs) – yep, antagonist, revealed by the end of the show as the Magic Menace – concentrates on carrying out his dastardly deeds against other characters rather than turning his ire on the audience. Much of the audience did not need any reminders to say what needed to be said at the relevant points in the proceedings – some of this relates to some unsubtle lighting (Nicholas Holdridge): a sudden light change would always accompany the on-stage arrival of the wicked prince.

An early putdown from panto dame Betty, Cinderella’s mum (John Savournin at this performance, the role is shared with Jamie Barwood), resulted in audible gasps from some in the audience, but aside from that, the rest of the content was almost disappointingly tame. A rather lame rendering of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, to different lyrics, of course (it was either that, or introduce a character called Scaramouche somehow) made me long for the interval. I hasten to add that the production redeemed itself with an excellent version of ‘Thriller’, and at the very end, a reworked version of the happy-clappy hymn ‘Shine, Jesus, Shine’. (I wonder how many people humming the latter tune as they left the theatre knew its etymology.)

A good panto will, amongst other things, appeal to a broad audience. I have never, to the best of my knowledge, sat through more than five minutes of ‘The Great British Bake Off’, on whatever channel it is on these days. Cue a scene in which the impossible in terms of culinary ability is asked within an unrealistic timeframe. Some people find that sort of thing amusing. I was rather bored. Rather more satisfying was an earlier sketch in which slow motion in theatre was marvellously parodied, and the later (almost) obligatory hip-hop number was performed competently enough.

At the centre of it all is Buttons (Matthew Kellett), who seemingly effortlessly elicits a generous amount of sympathy from the audience. It is he who is transformed, rather than Cinderella (Eleanor Sanderson Nash), who in this version of the story doesn’t have ugly sisters or an evil stepmother – and as for that whole slipper thing, it’s not even mentioned. Fortunately or unfortunately, the audience is spared the song sheet tune. Towards the end of the first half, there seemed to be quite a few songs bunched up close together, followed by at least as much spoken word, and I think the show could have benefited from redistributing a couple of musical numbers in order to break up the spoken dialogue more.

Bearing in mind that these are unamplified voices, the cast sing brilliantly. It’s a lot of fun overall, with a very broad range of musical styles thrown in. It’s far from perfect, but on this occasion, the passion and commitment of the ensemble cast override the show’s weaker elements. An energetic and whimsical production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Charles Court Opera returns to the King’s Head Theatre for their 12th dazzling, delightful and downright hilarious boutique pantomime – a brand new production of one of the company’s greatest hits, Buttons: A Cinderella Story.

Buttons, a co-production with the King’s Head Theatre, takes Cinderella, one of the best-loved fairytales of all time, and turns it on its pretty little head… From a villainous Prince to a Fairy Godfather, this delicious reimagining is given extra dashes of Christmas spice, with more double entendres than you can shake your tutu at, making their twisted version of the story even more outrageous, sprinkled with an extra special helping of CCO mischief.

Featuring John Savournin as a ludicrously tall Dame along with all your favourite characters, this fabulous festive treat is set to be the highlight of London’s seasonal calendar. Prepare for a cheeky concoction of toe-tapping musical numbers, side-splitting puns and jaw-dropping magic that’ll fill you with Christmas cheer into the New Year and beyond.

The cast also includes CCO favourite Matthew Kellett as the loveable Buttons, with Eleanor Sanderson-Nash, Jennie Jacobs Catrine Kirkman and Emily Cairns.

Creative team: Director John Savournin, Musical Director David Eaton, Set Designer Louie Whitemore, Costume Designer Mia Wallden, Lighting Designer Nicholas Holdridge

Charles Court Opera is an Associate Company of the King’s Head Theatre.

Booking from Friday 23 November, 2018 – Saturday 5 January, 2019.
http://www.kingsheadtheatre.com/

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