Sunday, 26 December 2021

REVIEW: Cinderella at the Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent

My last visit to the Regent Stoke on Trent was in 2006 to see Jonathan Wilkes in pantomime so it was with pleasure and anticipation that we returned to see him in Cinderella this December. In the intervening fifteen years, he has developed a strong comedy partnership with Christian Patterson (who also directs this show) and a powerful connection with the Stoke on Trent audience even though he appears to be a Port Vale FC fan. That rapport is visible from his first appearance from a spurious spacecraft cut out and together they pack plenty of jokes and a lot of adult innuendo into the first thirty minutes. It is a bit of a whirlwind with the rest of the cast very much in subsidiary roles. 

Alan McHugh’s 2021 scripts which underpin most of the Crossroads shows set up some standard pantomime business with a music lip-sync routine, twelve days of Christmas pandemonium and the Suzie Shaw tongue twister. For the first time audience member, these routines generate lots of laughs although they have little to do with the narrative and are barely adapted to each title. Patterson has clearly added to the script some of the best lines that land with the audience and each is delightfully pointed and reacted to by Wilkes and Patterson as Buttons and the Dame (this year). They perform the Balloon ballet at the Ball, but you will see better versions elsewhere like in Reading’s Cinderella with Justin Fletcher and Paul Morse. The DVD storytelling routine is executed well with plenty of innuendoes! They pack plenty of effort into a sing-off routine to replace the traditional song sheet and get a strong response from the audience.

The Ugly Sister’s roles (played by Vivien Parry and Annie Wensak) are relegated to a walk-on parts as observers of Cinderella and the characterisations are barely distinguishable between Nessa and Stacey. It does at least rebalance the gender mix of the cast from the traditional lineup and their “Raining men” song is energetic and fun as is their “I will survive” song with the male ensemble. The Fairy Godmother role (played by Olympia Curry) is also reduced, and we don’t see her as an old lady picking up sticks or when she arrives at the Kitchen. Indeed, the transformation scene from the kitchen to flying coach is rather lame using a black gauze and the dress transformation before our eyes lacks magic. 

Cinderella played by Naomi Slights does at least get her moments in a strong opening number, “Footloose” with the Ensemble and then flying over the audience in her carriage on the way to the ball in another wonderful Twin FX effect. The role of Charming (Ryan Jupp ) is also reduced, although He does at least get a decent song with “I’m still standing”. The Prince is outshone by Kai Owen as an overactive Dandini who never stops moving and even makes his entrance on the hand-pulled cart usually reserved for the Prince. He also gets to join in with Buttons and Dame in the Lip sync routine

This is Jonny Wilkes’s show, he knows his audience and they know him, and it works because of his effortless charm and strong relationship with Patterson, but you can’t help feeling that with a bit more effort, a better storytelling script and another name above the title it might be a whole lot better.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row M | Price of Ticket: £33
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