Tuesday, 3 December 2019

REVIEW: CinderELLA at the Nuffield Southampton Theatre

CinderELLA at the NST was the third reworking of the traditional magical Christmas Pantomime title of the week. Having seen a female Buttons marry an ugly sister at the Lyric Hammersmith and a smelly dog called Buttons get washed in a Karaoke pub at the Vaults, I was prepared for something different with the NST version this Christmas. In Michael Fentiman's version there is no Buttons and two Cinderellas, one young one, Cinders who cares for an older one Ella, whose two nieces Melania and Ivanka are trying to con her. With original music by Barnaby Rice and a cast of seven actor musicians the result is a quirky charming musical entertainment with more than a hint of the style and tone of Into the Woods and a slight sense of work in progress. 

There is a strong opening to the show with a grand evocative Art Deco ballroom stage setting and a gorgeous bridal gown centre stage which magical flies out to whoops of delight from the young girls in the audience. The opening number sets the tone with "Once upon a time" establishing the two Cinderella characters, both grieving lost love ones and the mystical policeman.

Lydia White is excellent as Cinders with a strong lovely voice and shines throughout, in particular in a wonderful song "This time last year" accompanying herself on the piano in a song that reminded me of an Elton John composition. Valda Aviks provides the contrast as the older widowed American Ella who is lonely and in search of Bert's will (although as a widow why she needs to find the will to inherit is unclear). Ella remembers dancing at the Midnight Ballroom. 

Michael O'Connor is Harry trying to save the dilapidated Midnight Ballroom by holding a special event when he bumps into Ella outside a supermarket and gives her a ticket to the ball. Jos Slovick is his lovesick grandson Dan Deeni who has fallen for Cinders but she shuns him. The sisters are man hungary violin playing Melania (Emma Darlow) and the obscenely posh guitar playing Ivanka (Imelda Warren-Green) who will stop at nothing to get their way and a man. 

The twist comes when the welsh policeman, (Tom Hier) turns out to be the fairy
godmother character and not only supplies the ball tickets but also switches Cinders and Ella characters over so they can go to the ball in disguise. However the transformation scene falls short of the magical moment it should be as the spinning rear wall and dry ice reveals them in their slips not elegant ball gowns.

This is an ambitious new version of the familiar show with some interesting varied original music which would grow in you in a second or third hearing , a strong talented cast and some fresh ideas with a nod to traditional elements but It is however little difficult to define it and its target audience. It does not have the slapstick comedy of traditional pantomime, or sparkling magical moments to define it and does have a fairly downbeat backstory of loss and loneliness without the usual bouncy festive tone which gives it that Sondheim feel of musical dark comedy theatre. Yet Fentiman and his cast nearly pull it off and for a family with teenagers this might be a good alternative festive show to see around Christmas which I think will get better during the run and like Sondheim's music will grow on you with a second viewing. 

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating : ★★★★

seat: Stalls row A | Price of Ticket: £ 36
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