Cinderella at New Wimbledon
After a slightly rocky start – involving a fawningly self-congratulatory filmed opening sequence about the importance of panto to British culture, narrated by Brian Blessed, and a bizarre advert for Littlewoods – the show settles into the familiar flow of a well-loved pantomime. There is plenty here for the traditionalists, with explosive costumes and one-liners as old as the hills, but this production of Cinderella has a decidedly modern twist. Many of the songs, from Pharrell’s Happy to the inevitable rendition of Frozen’s Let It Go, are still relatively fresh from the charts, and the simulated snow shower and pre-recorded Dallas spoof make full use of the available technology. Perhaps most impressive is the 3D reboot of the classic bench scene, complete with animated ghosts, ghoulies and spiders.
Heading up the star-studded line-up this year is Linda Gray, Dallas‘ Sue Ellen Ewing who makes a passable Fairy Godmother, a little unused to the obscure rituals of British pantomime and unable to quite crack the timing, but making up for it with Stetson-waving, boot-stamping enthusiasm. Mathew Kelly and Matthew Rixon make an enjoyably nasty pair of ugly sisters despite their over-reliance on a pastiched Essex vernacular – the constant repetition of “babes”, “omg” and “totes gorge” soon becoming hackneyed and tiresome. Amy Lennox’s Cinderella provides the perfect sugary-sweet counterbalance to these devilish dames, along with the dashing, if slightly juvenile Prince Charming (Liam Doyle), and a browbeaten but kindly Baron Hardup (James Doherty). Wayne Sleep is put to the test as Dandini, pirouetting his way through scene after scene, the highlight of which is his wonderfully choreographed tap routine to Putting On the Ritz.
It is Tim Vine as Buttons, however, that makes this pantomime a little bit special. His perfect combination of childlike enthusiasm and world-weary eyebrow raising creates a brilliantly cynical undertone to the joyful silliness of the whole affair – part of the reason panto is attractive to a British sensibility. It helps, of course, that his jokes are so pitch-perfect, from overly elaborate groaners to side-splitting props. To what extent scriptwriter Eric Potts is responsible for these jokes is uncertain, as some are recognisable from past stand-up routines, but one thing is undeniable – the outcome is hilarious. Plenty of room is left for the cast to improvise, and it seems the rapport will only get stronger as the show goes on.
There is plenty here for everyone: oldies for the oldies, new stuff for the kids, and a pair of Shetland ponies that drew a wide-eyed gasp from everyone. There’s no need to worry Brian, panto’s not quite dead yet.
Cinderella is on at New Wimbledon Theatre until 11th January 2015, for further information or to book visit here.