Thursday, 14 December 2017

Panto Review: Cinderella Lighthouse, Poole

"You Shall Go The Ball" and if you want to experience one the most entertaining pantomimes in the country then you need to book now....

Cinderella is one of the oldest of all fairy tales to be given the panto treatment (helpful programme note tells me it was in the 19th Century) This can be both a positive and a negative because, although the rags to riches story is an absolute classic, it is also so well worn as to feel as old as an Aladdin lamp cast off. Pantomime is a beautiful fusion of the old and the new but with every innovative twist you are left wondering when the producers are going to run out of ideas that work. This years panto is produced by Duncan Reeves Production and this in itself should give potential panto goers encouragement. Peter Duncan knows good theatre and his panto CV stretches as long as the Ugly Sister's sock in the crystal slipper scene.

I saw my first panto when I was just 3 years old (Dick Whittington at The Royal Theatre, Northampton) and, unlike the ice cream tub servings, my expectations have increased as the years have gone by. Fuelled by an understanding of just what goes on behind the scenes and not a few pantos that were damp festive squibs, I know what it takes to make a good pantomime. Critics of the annual journey into camp silliness (which sounds like a kind of Theatrical Butlins) have often derided panto as an excuse for theatres to rake in much needed money in exchange for sub standard theatre and bad jokes. Darlings, it's so much more than that and get even one element wrong and the panto is doomed to a really stinky review from Mark Shenton (The Stage) and hoards of disgruntled parents (I don't know which of those I am more fearful for). So as the houselights dimmed and the pit band strike up the delightful panto overture I wonder what I am going to write at the end of this.

Any pantomime that opens with Another Day of Sun from La La Land is going to go down well with me and, as the incredible Cinderella cast belted out the jazz number I just knew I was in for a glittery panto that would blow my mind. The entire cast sing with the sort of clarity and tuning that you rarely see out of London these days. I have had to suffer through pantomimes where the Director has sacrificed singing ability for acting prowess when a panto deserves to be treated as a musical, you need both! You also need on stage chemistry and any production of Cinderella will suffer a slow painful death if there is no passion between the two leads. Clearly Director, Peter Duncan was only to aware of this as the sparks fly effectively between Cinders and her Prince Charming. Lucy-Jane Quinlan sparkles and shines as Cinderella with a performance that is both vulnerable, naive and lovable. She is supported by her best friend and confidant, Buttons, and an astounding stage debut by Ethan Lawrence. Lawrence reminded me of James Cordon in his comedic delivery but also effectively conveying his love for Cinders. From the moment he stepped onto the stage the audience were on his side as was evident when Cinders breaks his heart. "kinda messed that up didn't I" admits our Princess in waiting to be greeted by an young audience members cry of "yeah you did" bad, bad Cinderella! 

Baron Hardup is a character that I have never really enjoyed before as he can be a little too bland for my tastes. Not the case here but then that was never going to be a problem when he is played by the master of disguise, Herr Flick or Richard Gibson. Watching Gibson cart wheel and bounce around the stage is a delight and his comedic timing is still very much on point. Where would Cinderella be without the Ugly Sisters and they don't come much uglier than in this production. Ivanka (Miles Western) and Ivana (Jay Worthy) are the panto villains that you always dreamt of encountering. There is no redeeming these two and, from the moment they step foot onto the stage, they are an instant hit! Jay and Miles are accomplished actors and their hideously wonderful creations will live long in my nightmares. This is an Ugly Sister double act for the modern age and I loved every second of their performances! 

Prince Charming (George Beet) and Dandini (Duncan Earlam) can easily be performed as a little 2 dimensional but this is not the case here. There is a refreshing edge to the Prince which I can only put down to the fact that he is so bored of royalty. When you add a Dandini that hails from the rural west country (love the accent) there is a lot of fun to be had with their verbal sparring and banter. They also managed to achieve something that I didn't think was possible, their performance of Castle On The Hill actually made me enjoy an Ed Sheeran song. Looking at the casting for Cinderella and it feels like Peter Duncan and I have had similar experiences with panto faux pas and they have all been avoided. 

Lucy Kay gets her own paragraph for sheer vocal talent and because she delivers a performance as the Fairy Godmother that showers the entire show with pantomime glittery magic. Lucy's versatility as a singer is showcased in a production that sees her singing out pop classics as well as the more operatic dueting on material from Sondheim's "Into The Woods" She breathes a realistic maternal life to a character that can sometimes feel like a stop gap or theatrical filler for a big scene change. Her rapport with the audience is a delight and her end of Act 1 transformation sequence is a jaw dropping show stopper. The temptation to produce an overly technical scene can be sometimes impossible to resist as the whole show builds to Cinders going to the ball. Here the set impressively transforms and the focus is on the adorable ponies drawing the coach and not gaudy effect. Cinderella's dress transformation is handled with an impressively simple piece of staging that really works and the overall impact is one of overwhelming success. But Lucy Kay, wow just wow what a talent! 

Special mention goes to the team of young performers who deliver an amazing UV scene but are also exceptionally talented in their own right. When most reviewers focus on the leads, little column space is devoted to the ensemble and chorus but without whom a panto just simply wouldn't work. The young performers are led by Dance Captain, Ellie Seaton (when she isn't understudying the Fairy) Morgan Wilcox sparkles in her professional debut and is one to watch in what is going to be a fabulous theatrical career. Their huge smiles as the audience claps clearly demonstrated that they are loving every moment of this experience. 

This production of Cinderella is one of the most enjoyable professional pantos that I have experienced for many years. Everything works and the set and staging deliver all that pantomime should for an audience. Having spent many hours backstage working on shows I know the hard work and effort that it takes to deliver a show at this level and so seamlessly. The unsung heroes of any pantomime are the stage teams, stage managers and LX and sound operators that work tirelessly to ensure that the magic of panto bewitches time and time again. Whilst never stepping foot on stage to receive applause or to bow these talented and passionate people work throughout the Christmas holiday. They are the ones that ensure that pantomime is the must see show of the season. Lighthouse Theatre staff I salute you! What a show! 

Cinderella is playing at the Lighthouse, Poole until Saturday 6th January book tickets here

Production Photos Courtesy of 

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