The great thing about the audience participation elements of a pantomime is its unpredictability – as WC Fields (1880-1946) may or may not have said, “Never work with children or animals”. On press night for this production of Cinderella, a particularly articulate and acutely active boy was accompanied on stage for the singalong by a girl who couldn’t keep a straight face, and two other girls who gave the tongue twisting lyrics their best shot. And then there was the child who shouted, “No!” with the ferocity of Margaret Thatcher when Cinderella (Melody Thornton) asked the audience if she should marry Prince Charming (Edward Chitticks).
Perhaps Buttons (Pete Firman) had it right in an early quip: “Adjust your expectations. Lower them.” Egged on by the youngster (who, in all fairness, might have preferred it if ‘Cinders’ had married Buttons instead), the audience overall seemed split to the point where the Fairy Godmother (Lesley Garrett, furnished with a number of opera gags throughout the evening that largely went over the heads of this panto audience) was visibly aghast. With what sounded like a 52/48 per cent split in favour of the wedding, perhaps – dare I say it – Cinderella should have put the question to the audience again. (Oh no she shouldn’t, etc.)
Samantha Womack’s Baroness Demonica Hardup might not have had the evil laugh her first name suggests the audience might be treated (or subjected) to, but she was the kind of villain that the crowd loved to ‘hate’. References to Womack’s stints in Walford went down well with audience members conversant with BBC Television’s EastEnders, and elsewhere, the production couldn’t resist a quip or two about Thornton’s previous career as a member of an American girl band called The Pussycat Dolls.
Cinderella wouldn’t be Cinderella without the title character’s sisters, here called Verruca (Leon Craig) and Hernia (Bobby Delaney). The Prince’s right-hand man, Dandini (Will Jennings) is, as ever, initially mistaken by Cinderella for the Prince, and vice versa. The various backgrounds of the principal cast are very much evident and allowed to shine in this surprisingly slick and harmonious panto where one moment Firman is up to one of his many magic tricks and the next Garrett is bringing the house down with her strong soprano singing skill.
Modified versions of popular songs including Billy Ray Cyrus’ ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ and Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’ advance the narrative sufficiently – the most rousing tune being a version of Elton John’s ‘I’m Still Standing’. The cast is supported by children from the Arnould School of Dance and Drama, who no doubt are enjoying the experience of being on the stage of a flagship regional theatre. The choreography (Lizzi Gee) is sprightly and a pleasure to watch. This being one of many pantos produced by Qdos Entertainment, some of the punchlines and melodies are recognisable from some of Qdos’ other productions, most notably their Cinderella at the London Palladium in 2016. But if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
Let’s just say there have been far worse pantos than this one at the New Wimbledon over the years. A joyous experience and genuinely one for the whole family, this is a ball well worth attending.
Review by Chris Omaweng
You shall go to the ball at next year’s pantomime, Cinderella! The Fairy Godmother of all pantomimes comes to New Wimbledon Theatre. Cinderella will feature laugh-out-loud comedy, jaw-dropping special effects, stunning song and dance and plenty of boos and hisses as the ultimate pantomime is brought magically to life.
Samantha Womack – Wicked Stepmother
Lesley Garrett – Fairy Godmother
Melody Thornton – Cinderella
Pete Firman – Buttons
Leon Craig – Veruca
Bobby Delaney – Hernia
Edward Chitticks – Prince Charming
Will Jennings – Dandini
New Wimbledon Theatre
Sat 7 Dec 2019 – Sun 5 Jan 2020
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