Wednesday, 12 December 2018

REVIEW: Cinderella at the St Albans Arena

Writer Paul Hendy and Director Bob Golding continue their long association with the St Albans Arena with this wonderful fresh feeling production of Cinderella which sets off at a brilliant pace and the first half fizzes by delightfully. For some reason they cut back in the second half sticking to the basic elements only to keep the overall running time under 2 hours. It leaves you wanting more but feeling slightly short changed. The hilarious first half is driven along by two characters who are often walk on parts with Bob Golding an excellent Dandini, channelling his Eric Morecambe looks and comic timing to great effect and Ian Kirby ringing every ounce of comedy from Baron Hardup , here with echoes of Michael Palin at his comic best. The St Albans Arena audience know what to expect and respond loudly with a minimum of encouragement. We get the usual pun filled routine from a cart and of course the “legendary St Albans arena ghost bench.”

The script is packed with new sounding gags and plenty of old ones and references to the poor folk of neighbouring Luton and Watford, brilliantly signposted on every occasion. There is also a strong attempt to address the concerns of the Politically Correct Panto critics with two clever interventions from a "supremely self confident eight year old in the juvenile chorus” who takes centre stage to warn the principals about gender stereotypes and roles. As Hardup says “hasn’t Pantomime changed in last three years". 

The whole cast is brimming with confidence knowing they have a great show despite it being early in the run and every member of the cast and Ensemble deliver with energy and obvious enjoyment . Cinderella is played by Jemma Carlisle; she looks strong enough to survive the bullying from her sisters and delivers in her songs. It is slightly odd to see her towering over Rachel Steven's Fairy Godmother who also acquits herself well in the rhyming couplets and looks amazing. This title can be made or broken by the Ugly Sisters who have to get the tone right in their presentation to be disliked and laughed with at the same time. Hugh O’Donnell and Aaron Alexander as Donaldina and Melania, get this spot on and in their fabulous costumes totter downstage to berate the audience perfectly. They could easily have been given their own comic business in the second half to provide more laughs and rebalance the show running time and missed the opportunity for some Fake news jokes to reflect their names.

Buttons, Ben Faulks works very hard but is downplayed against the other characters and left with just the traditional Buttons business of the gift for Cinders, a button for the audience to protect and cheering Cinders up with the nine carat necklace. Sadly the producers dropped the traditional children's songsheet with a rather weak "I am the music man" to cover the finale scene change. The prince, Kane Oliver Parry, provides the charm and good looks and delivers a good duet with Cinders in “One night only”.

The Ensemble of six adults and six juveniles are excellent, with a great opening number of “Bring me sunshine”, later at Winter Fair in “Best day of my life” and in opening in Act 2. Along the way we also get this year’s pantomime standard “This is me” and “Baby shark”.

Overall this is a production that knows its audience, delivers great comic performances within the traditional fairy tale and is certain to be one of the top pantomimes of the year.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Front stalls | Price of Ticket: £21
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