Tuesday, 4 January 2022

REVIEW: Cinderella at the Corn Exchange, Newbury

For their last performance of 2021, the Newbury production of Cinderella had to adjust with Jordon Benjamin stepping up from an Ensemble of two into the leading role of Prince Charming as the understudy for William Beckerleg but his confident stage presence covered any uncertainty over filing the role. Indeed, the whole cast looks like they are enjoying themselves in the knowledge that the creative team behind the show have developed an imaginative and fresh take on the familiar title and perhaps that there were only four more shows until the end of the run!

The script by Clare Prested, Adam Brown (who also directs) and Amanda Wilsher is full of clever fresh ideas that breathes new life into the story and dispenses with the Buttons character. This spreads the responsibility for the comedy to the rest of the cast and they rise to the challenge wonderfully. The Dandini character is elevated to the comical Deldini borrowing heavily from Only Fools and Horses and brilliantly incorporating the famous bar scene collapse. Billy Robert’s is excellent in the role of creating the chirpy East End chappie.

Another clever innovation is the casting of three members of the Showstoppers improvised musical show as the Dame and Ugly Sisters and then allowing them two slots to improvise a song with input from an audience. This is perfect new material for pantomime using the audience interaction to add new fresh comedy. Justin Britt creates a great presence as Lady Barbara HardUp and cleverly reflects on the last 18 months with his shout out “whose had both jabs?” to which the audience responded, “Lady Babs” and observes “my hands have consumed more alcohol than my mouth”. The entrance to the ball is subject to a Covid passport, just like the entrance to the theatre with the suggestion that the Dame should get “her apps out”. 

The Ugly Sisters Hashtag and Viral are “Influencers” and played by Susan Harrison and Ali James. They create distinctive characters that complement each other and James in particular is wonderful with her facial reactions emphasised by her green eyelashes and pouty lipstick. They have good running gags about Berkshire Beanz which finally gets its punchline at the Ball. Their experience gives the show an air of spontaneity as well as a modern twist.

Chloe Gentles is very good as Cinderella and is well supported by Jade Johnson as Fairy Liquid (singing to the TV Ad theme tune) and Rachel Breeze as the remaining only Ensemble member and Foxy getting the better of the Berkshire Hunt. The latter two even get in on the “songsheet” a singalong of “Raining Taco’s” song, although on this occasion they got upstaged by three young kids on a second visit to the show! There are good musical choices including “We Are Family”, “Can’t wait to be king”, “Does your mother know”, “Champagne supernova“ and “Oh what a night” all delivered with energy, clear voices, and an element of fun. 

What adds to the joy of this creative production is the clear message for the young audience about caring more about being liked by family and close friends than followers on social media and a suggestion of “screen-free” days. It reminds you that creativity and imagination in the production team and young talented casts can create excellent shows despite budget limitations compared to the big-budget star-driven pantomimes elsewhere. 

This show closed on the 2nd January 2022. 

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row G | Price of Ticket: £27.50
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