(seen at the first preview performance on 7th December 2019).
‘Cinderella’ was the first panto the monkey saw at
And it pretty much rises to the occasion. True, this year’s offering isn’t as lavish in cast size, scenery and no longer has Wimbledon’s trade mark real ponies with the carriage (being fair, that one was looking a little antique in the animal rights field; but the Palladium’s scaled down cast-off special effect wasn’t sufficient substitute).
The Palladium show of 2016 in fact has a lot to do with this one – those who saw it will recognise a fair bit of material, but almost enough has changed to personalise it to the star team of 2019. Still, not a good path to go down considering next year is “Dick Whittington” (same sequence as the Palladium). SE14 won’t stand for cast-offs a second time, tailored a little or not.
Lesley Garrett is a flying fairy godmother with a long line of opera allusions lost to most of the children. Her “Impossible Dream” solo in the second half also failed to hit the spot with the youngsters, but had the older generation shushing them so they could listen.
God-daughter and American Pussycat Doll turned panto newcomer Melody Thornton is granted her panto-licence by the monkey for totally smashing her debut. Singing like a dream and taking the acting absolutely seriously, she is a gloriously three-dimensional Cinders, with whom the whole audience falls in love. Sign her up for Alice Fitzwarren 2020 immediately.
As her confidence developed through the first performance, she also grasps the essentials of being able relax and have some fun, too – dealing out a well-earned slap to cheeky Pete Firman at one point. By the end of the run, this will be one heck of a double-act.
Firman himself isn’t the most versatile magician, but he knows how to work a panto audience (clever back-references to last year’s show) and think quickly to extract maximum laughter from every situation. He made the “Truth Bush” (with Samantha Womack) a hoot, and the final “sing-a-long” routine (so dreary done by Paul Zerdin at the Palladium) a riot, the whole audience in sympathy with his young victims. A lovely duet with his teddy bear also stopped the show in the second half and his shared writing credit (with Alan McHugh) should be noted to his talents.
His nemesis, Samantha Womack, Baroness Demonica Hardup, never failed to throw in a career or local reference, nicely evil but never outright wicked, and a smashing outfit to boot. The latter runs in her family, with Ugly Sister off-spring Verruca and Hernia (Leon Craig and Bobby Delaney) having decently outrageous gear and good lines to match for the small scenes they were used in.
Notes too for Edward Chitticks as a Prince Charming with a strong vocal and Will Jennings as a Dandini with good reactive timing.
The ensemble, adults and children alike, are a charming crew. The dance routines bristling with energy, the smiles and charm set to the highest level. Only small note is that dancers should be aware stalls audiences can see final adjustments to footwear being made in the wings, so maybe do it before entering that zone, perhaps?
This is local panto at its finest. Smaller scale than usual for
Photo credit: Craig Sugden. Used by kind permission.