This was our second Theatre Royal panto in as many years, having gone to Kenneth Alan-Taylor’s Playhouse rival the previous two.
The Playhouse and Theatre Royal pantos are quite different experiences – the former arguably a more purist slice of panto pie, the latter closer to the razzle-dazzle of Saturday night TV. Each has their unique strengths, but it’s difficult to resist the glitz, glamour, pace and pizzazz of the star-studded Theatre Royal offering. It certainly enthralled, delighted, not to say hyped-up our 5 year old girl.
With last year’s Peter Pan having set a high bar, Cinderella and co. had a lot to live up to. There’s something about the opulent rococo interior of the Theatre Royal – with golden cherubs swimming in a Lincoln green sea – that conjures instant atmosphere and crackles with expectation and promise. The theatre was built in 1865 as a "temple of drama", an aspiration perfectly realised by this Guy Barkworth-directed Cinderella. It was also hoped to be a place of “moral and intellectual culture”. Hmm…ooh look a firework!
Rest assured, this ‘Fairy Godmother of all pantomimes’ is an audio-visual feast, packed with all the choicest panto ingredients. Expect lavish sets and costumes, campy song and dance routines backed by a great live band, fireworks and special effects, slapstick, endless double entendres that fly over the nippers’ heads, and loads of digs at the various environs of the host city. As shows go this is unashamedly jazz-handing at the fun, goofy, lovable end of the spectrum.
Les Dennis and Connor McIntyre ditch the Corrie cobbles for clutchbags and corsets to play the suitably ‘orrible Ugly Sisters, and the original P-p-pop Idol Gareth Gates (relax, he makes the joke himself in the first half!) is our all-singing, swoon-inducing Prince Charming. Richard Cadell, ably assisted by his more famous little conjurer-companion Sooty, completes the famous half of the cast as the poor, forever friend-zoned Buttons.
The less famous half of the cast were no less fab: the irrepressibly sweet Hannah Grace Lawson as Cinderella, the indefatigably cheerful Jack McNeill as Dandini, the impressively melodious Kimberly Blake as the singing Fairy Godmother and the inexcusably cute company of Theatre Royal Babes as the Fairy Godmother’s little helpers.
Les and Connor were mean, obscene, rude and lewd, and did a sterling job as the comedy heart of the show, but special mention goes to Richard Cadell for his irrepressible energy and charm which earned just as many chuckles from the packed auditorium. Richard is a skilled magician and we were treated to some fantastic magic set pieces that had us fish-mouthed with disbelief. It was nice to see young Gareth Gates (he’s 35 now duck!) mucking in with the comedy, a highlight for me being a lovely slapstick routine in which Prince Charming attempted to serenade Cinderella on a wall. Cadell brought bags of energy, puckish charm and really powered the show along.
Our daughter was thoroughly captivated for the entire 2 hours. If she wasn’t entranced by the glamour of the singing and dancing or cackling away at the fart jokes, she was belting out ‘she’s behind you’ and ‘oh yes it is’ with the rest of the kids, big and small.
Above all else, this production has a real warmth to it. The talented ensemble cast seemed to be a having a gay old time, and even the occasional bloopers were embraced and milked for more giggles. A real labour of love that, unless your heart is two sizes too small, you’re bound to love back. Oh yes you will.
Cinderella plays at Nottingham's Theatre Royal from 30 November 2019 to 5 January 2020.