Tuesday, 30 March 2021

REVIEW: Cinderella, the interactive online Pantomime by PantoLive

Pantomime is essentially a live experience and many of the Christmas streams failed to capture that audience interaction which makes a trip to the theatre to see one such a brilliant family experience or school outing. Panto Live have embraced the digital streaming technology to create a very clever and well thought out interactive experience in our homes or classrooms. It's available as a live stream until 4th April and then on-demand after that and it is definitely worth giving it a try especially with young children over the Easter holiday.

The pantomime is shot live in front of a green screen, with 3D virtual worlds, effects and backgrounds generated in Unreal Engine, a world-building tool used in video games and TV shows such as Fortnite. This gives each scene depth and a magical feel with moving elements, special effects, and lighting sources. It looks very good with only occasional “halo” effects around the characters in front of the images. 

The interactivity is built in very effectively using three elements. For those brave enough you can sign up for a zoom window to chat to Buttons and the Uglies, it is the equivalent of sitting in the front row. Four brave families were on my show with the best moment when we returned to find one of them on the phone and no longer listening! For the less brave you can sign up for a shout out from the stage just as you can in the theatre and so several school groups were identified. Simplest of all there are buttons along the bottom of the screen so you can add “boos”, “claps”, “Cheers” and other traditional callouts as you watch your stream. It all worked very well and recreated that sense of Live Pantomime that we have missed.

Tom Whalley’s script sticks close to the traditional Cinderella Pantomime story but is peppered with good and dreadful jokes. As in all pantomime, there is plenty of adult innuendo which I liked but maybe on your sofa with a young child, it may prompt unwanted questions! References to “driving me nuts”, “the Prince’s balls getting bigger every year”, “Mother Plucker” and “Master Baker” may be a little difficult to explain why they are funny! 

There is a good cast who under the direction of Charlotte Peters (who recently directed the wonderful “Billy and me” as part of Barnes’s People stream) fully engage with the media playing straight down the camera with occasional asides. Chris Johnson (former CBeebies host) makes a perfect Buttons, fully of energy, comic timing and appropriate pathos as well as hosting the interaction with charm. Martin Callaghan elevates the usual bit part of Baron Hardup with a good singing voice especially in the Eurovision winner song “Rise Like a Phoenix”. Cinderella is played by Katy Clayton (who appeared in West End in the Band) and looks the part and sings a good rendition of “Into the Unknown” from Frozen before an excellent duet of the Ed Sheeran “Perfect” when she first meets her Prince. The casting of the young Dublin busker Cuan Durkin is interesting. He has a good voice and will grow into these roles with more stage time.

There is some gender blind casting with Chris Rankin (Percy Weasley from Harry Potter films) as the Fairy who is seen most hovering over the cast in a special effect and Kimberley Hart-Simpson (from Coronation Street) as a northern Dandini. The villains are Jessica Ellis as Griselda and Tim Churchill and Steve Fortune as the charmless Uglies Sharon and Karen. The whole cast come together at the opening of Act II for “The Greatest Show” from The Greatest Showman and the finale of “Dancing in the Moonlight” completing some good music choices by Lindsey Miller and some simple but effective choreography from Lily Howkins.

This is one of the most effective streamed pantomime available, very well produced, well cast and enjoyable to watch. I would have liked a bit more comic business on top of the plethora of one-liners, the short boudoir scene and the classic Ghost scene but overall this is definitely one to watch this Easter. I will look out for this cast and creative team in future Pantomimes!   

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: online stream | Price of Ticket: £15

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