Friday, 17 December 2021

REVIEW: Cinderella at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend-on-Sea

Brian Conley is one of the modern Kings of Pantomime and from his first appearance he effortlessly had a young audience eating out of his hands whatever he did. With a little bit of effort on some fresher material, he would have had them rolling in the aisles too. He engages with the audience well, although the show is all about him, “I am on the poster” he repeatedly tells us and indeed none of the rest of the cast gets any subsidiary billing at all. He also co-wrote the script with the legendary master of Pantomime Michael Harrison who runs the Production Company Crossroads, so they certainly know what works. Conley’s material has worked for years, and he delivers it professionally but in a mechanical way perhaps holding back early in the run. The Masked Singer gag was a good idea underdeveloped, Dangerous Buttons fell flat, and the song on the log wall with the Prince and Cinders upset the balance of the scene where Cinders and Prince first meet.

There is in fact a very good supporting cast but the interaction between them under Kathryn Rooney’s direction does not create the feel of an ensemble cast working together to deliver the show. This is particularly true of the two excellent Ugly Sisters the tall Ben Stock and the shorter Neal Wright. They have little of their own business and are underused although they do get to do a rather lame electrocution sketch with Conley. Stock’s reactions to whatever is happening are wonderful and they have some marvellous costumes including too stunning Chandelier dresses for the Ball. They deserved more stage time to truly demonstrate their statement “aren’t we gorgeous”!

Equally, Jenny Gayner is delightful as the Fairy Godmother from her first appearance flying over the audience and singing well through the transformation scene and she even shows her comic timing in an odd Elvis sketch with Conley. Her experience in musical theatre shines through. This is also true of Matthew Goodgame as Charming who starts with a good duet with Dandini (Matthew Malthouse), “Follow that Dream” and then opens Act 2 with a very good “I’m still standing” routine at the Garden Ball.

Cinderella is played by Lauren Hall who also has a good singing voice and sings “Welcome to Southend City” with the lively ensemble of eight on her first appearance and joins Conley in a high energy “I’m a believer”. She looks and sounds the part. The Transformation scene does have two live ponies, eight pumpkin men and a twirl to change the dress but lacked the real magic of a transformation in front of our eyes from Kitchen to carriage and Buttons the coachman was dropped from the closing scene. 

The wide Southend on sea Cliffs Pavilion stage, with some very ancient-looking portals, was dressed mainly in cloths and looked at its best in the dark as in the Godmothers opening “flight” and later in Conley and Cinders “that’s what friends are for” as they walk upstage together in a touching ending.

Brian Conley can hold an audience’s attention just by being on stage and although he claimed to “have more gags than a PCR test” we wanted to hear more jokes and more traditional pantomime business especially with the Dames. At one point he says, “I should have been at the Palladium” and it would be great to see him there next year with a host of other star names trying to outdo each for laughs.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row M | Price of Ticket: £38
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