Cinderella and the Beanstalk at Theatre503
James, Josh and John have written an ambitious pantomime: behind the wings, we are told, await their 40-strong cast, dressed and ready to play all the classic panto characters you could think of, plus a few festive extras – from Peter Pan to Rumplestiltskin to Kevin McCallister from Home Alone. Panic ensues, however, when it turns out that none of the actors have turned up. There’s only Mark, the sheepish musician, and he can’t act anyway. There’s nothing for it – James, Josh and John are going to have to perform themselves, dividing the 40+ characters between the three of them with only their ingenuity, a few simple props and a manageable portion of audience participation to help get them through the story.
Luckily for the kids, and the rest of us too, they do so with as much energy as your typical, full-cast-with-costume-and-makeup pantomime – and with a lot more heart. In place of smoke machines, trapdoors and extravagant effect-filled sword fights is a makeshift production that uses simple props and body language to deliver all the thrills and silliness that anybody old or young could want from a Christmas show.
The fringe, makeshift element of the piece and the smallness and intimacy of the Battersea venue ensure that the audience doesn’t get off lightly, and here this means more than just few “he’s behind you”s; Cinderella and the Beanstalk demands your imagination. You can’t sit back and just watch and wait for the Fairy Godmother to throw chocolates at you, you have to join in with the fantasy. Without the gloss and extravagance of bigger productions, you are forced to believe that the stage is really a deep dark wood, or a cloud-land atop the beanstalk, and this fantasy works through the sheer joy apparent in each of James, Josh and John’s faces as they dance, sing and stumble through all the characters.
As a trio they form the Sleeping Trees theatre company, and having written this piece themselves, they perform with an infectious glee, obviously and quite rightly proud of their own creation. If at times one wonders if the three got slightly over-excited and lost themselves in their imaginations while writing the script, such times are rare and actually highlight the charisma with which they play the characters. Kids are remarkably perceptive to fake enthusiasm, and here there is none of it.
Photo: Ian Kitt
Cinderella and the Beanstalk is on at Theatre503 until 10th January 2015, for further information or to book visit here.