Every provincial theatre has to have a pantomime every year and most of them are produced by QDOS “the world’s biggest pantomime producer” who this year are putting on over thirty pantos up and down the land including Snow White at the London Palladium – and you don’t get much bigger than that.
This year’s offering at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley is Cinderella. The star above the title is Lesley Joseph of Birds Of A Feather fame as The Fairy Godmother who’s fresh from a very successful run in the West End as Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein. She arrives on stage – in fact high above it – in a flying carriage and sets the scene although there can be few people in the audience who don’t know the age-old story.
QDOS pantos can be a bit formulaic and this production is no exception. The sets are delightful and look as if they’re straight out of a storybook. The comedy is led by Buttons (played by comedian Phil Reid) who plays the character as a big, loveable Labrador puppy. He’s aided and abetted by the two Ugly Sisters, Tess (Jack Land Noble) and Claudia (Graham Hoadley) who get all the boos and hisses and the best costumes (of which they have many). Charlotte Haines is a sweet Cinderella and James Darch is her dashing Prince Charming (although I do miss the old tradition of a “Principle Boy” i.e. a girl playing the part). Completing the main cast is Gary Watson as a very camp Dandini.
As I said, QDOS productions can be a bit formulaic and this Cinderella is no exception. We get the obligatory pop songs such as I Will Survive, Pure Imagination and of course what seems to be obligatory this panto season, the Baby Shark Dance. As I said the sets are excellent, especially in the ballroom scene although it didn’t have the storybook look of the others and seemed to belong to a different production altogether. The big “ahh” factor in this production, was Cinderella’s carriage being drawn by two delightful white Shetland ponies.
However, I think the production is let down by some unimaginative writing with too many local references. The jokes weren’t sophisticated enough for the grown-ups or silly enough for the many children in the audience and there weren’t many big laughs. In fact, the biggest laugh of the night was when Joseph was reading out the birthdays of people in the audience. When she didn’t get a response to one, she asked where the little girl was. A young voice at the back of the stalls shouted out “She’s in the toilet” which brought the house down.
The other thing lacking in this production was a pitifully small ensemble of six. The Churchill has a big stage and in some of the set-pieces, it looked very empty which was a shame as it needed filling with more dancers. There were also eight young girls from the Laura Bruce Dance Academy but they were only in a few scenes.
However, despite my reservations, the audience made up of mainly young children loved it and had a whale of a time. My first theatrical experience was at a panto at the London Palladium and it’s a wonderful way for young people to get a taste of the theatre – I’ve never forgotten it. Last night I took my eleven-year-old grand-daughter and she gave it 5 stars! So, if you’re in the Bromley area (or even if you’re not) and fancy a traditional panto, then ignore my star rating and go by hers.
Review by Alan Fitter
Audiences shall go to the ball this Christmas as Cinderella transforms from rags to riches, outwits her very Ugly Sisters, and with the help of her hilarious friend Buttons and one very magical Fairy Godmother, wins the heart of the dashing Prince Charming. Cinderella will feature all of the ingredients audiences have come to expect; a fabulous cast and orchestra, laugh-out-loud comedy, stunning scenery and special effects, beautiful costumes and plenty of boos and hisses for all the family to enjoy.
Churchill Theatre, Bromley
SAT 1 – SUN 30 DECEMBER 2018