Last year, chief scout and forever Blue Peter man Peter Duncan had the mad idea of filming a panto in his back garden to replace the ones lost to lockdown. Another panto legend, Ian Talbot, joined the project and it mushroomed, well, beanstalked, into a brand-new form of downloadable panto which was even granted cinema release... until ironically the virus closed them.
The monkey ended last year’s six star rave opinion on the hope that we’d see “Cinderella” for 2022. Beating it by a year (or perhaps a typo, now it thinks about it), here it is. And the monkey is more grateful than it can say.
To indulge in a moment: usually the first week of December is its favourite of the year, panto ticket booked 12 months in advance. This very week... self-isolating prior to surgery forced it reluctantly to move a treasured treat to a far later date. Angry, upset and disappointed didn’t begin to cover it. Thus it embraced this opportunity with enormous gratitude.
Cut to the chase (and there’s a scary one here!). Duncan, Talbot and a cast of many returning faces have not only learned a lot from last time but with the freedom of movement and a clearly far larger budget – or amazing blagging skills – have actually topped last year’s stunning event.
It’s fast, furious and unremittingly hilarious - complete with pauses for interaction as you’d expect, and you will reply (oh yes, you will).
An irresistibly smiley pink Fairy Godmother (Sarah Moss – last year’s Jill) opens the show with a little rhyming fox trouble and the first of many excellent songs and company dance numbers.
Hardup Hall is our next stop. Lucy-Jane Quinlan is the perkily decisive Cinderella with a strong Social Equality agenda. Ian Talbot is her Hardup Baron father - easily duped, but with the best of intentions and even better patter delivery.
Servant Buttons (Henry Roadnight) has a touch of Dec Donnelly about him, but with considerably better comic timing and a strong singing voice. Sadly, he inevitably (or does he?) loses out to The Prince (Sam Ebenezer – last year’s Jack) who is again on top character form, this time with added social status to play with. Sidekick Dandini (Miguel Angel) handles a classic panto wordplay with him in a manner suggesting a fine interchangeable lead and feed pairing for years ahead.
Of course, being “Cinderella” there has to be ugly sisters – and this duo are as hideous as they come. Meet Billie Eyelash (Peter Duncan – Dame Trott last time) and Ariana Shande (Shandy to her friends, Adam Price to his agent). Outrageously funny baboons with shockingly casual morals and uninhibited opinions.
David Morgan goes an extra mile (arguably as far as Australia) with the outfits – the tea-time wigs even less sane than their owners. On riotous form, both actors make the most of everything they are given.
This show has all that the best “Cinderella” productions should. An inspired “Kitchen Wish” scene, a Scout Camp routine which had the monkey in hysterics, real haunted woods, a joyously fiery “spesh act” and even a proper palace with actual coach-and-horses in the driveway.
Best of all they give us a “splosh” scene on a scale normal theatre cannot, due to the time needed to set up and clear after.
The laughs are old, new, clean, tongue-in-cheek, biting, puckishly Peppa Pig topical and with a touching nod to Sondheim too. The songs (Lucy Duncan, Robbie Defacto, Peter Duncan and Henry Roadnight) are so memorable you’ll be huddling up and doing the roly poly with the best of them by the end, Miguel Angel’s relentlessly creative choreography showing you how. Oh, and the final credit caption is worth waiting for, just saying.
This is not just another opportunity to commit a treasured art form to film, which it does brilliantly. It is sharing a giant heart of pantomime tradition, delivering it straight to all of us who need such special magic more than ever right now.
Let’s hope for another next year.
Six stars, second year running, and well earned.
Tickets to see ’Cinderella’ online are available at www.pantoonline.co.uk.
It is also being shown at 100 Showcase cinemas across the UK, also at VUE, Light Cinemas, Omniplex and 12 independents.