Seasonal jokesmith Andrew Pollard marks his twelve years of Christmas at Greenwich Theatre with a presentation of family favourite,
A great show with a fantastic cast that can navigate the genre with aplomb
As anyone familiar with pantos at Greenwich will testify, they tend to have a local twist and this is no exception. Cinderella’s father is one Barron Edmond Hailey – he of the comet fame – and he happens to reside in Greenwich Observatory atop Greenwich Park. All the action, therefore, takes place in the SE10 postcode with in jokes aplenty for those living in the royal borough.
It seems a little redundant recounting the story of Cinderella here, but for the benefit of those living as a hermit until this point, it revolves around our heroine Ella – nicknamed Cinders due to her working in the ashes of the fireplace – the beautiful child of Barron Hailey whose ugly step-sisters torment and abuse her. (Notably Barron Hailey’s second wife seems missing, questioning why he would allow the mistreatment to occur, but perhaps I’m picking at a plot hole unnecessarily…). Anyway, cue a chance meeting between Ella and the local Prince Charming, the smitten royal throws an impromptu party for all his kingdom so he may meet the young lady again.
Ella’s step-sisters attempt to thwart her ambitions to attend the grand ball, but her fairy godmother steps in to provide the costume, transport and all-important invitation, with the proviso that the magic spell ends at midnight.
Without giving away the ending (who can possibly not already know the ending), that deadline proves a problem – but in good fairy tale tradition, they all live happily ever after.
The local slant on this show is pretty clever. Barron Hailey gets all scientific about time – crucial to the Cinderella plot – even with a step-to-the-right Time Warp number to delay the inevitable midnight pumpkin-fest. The parochial nature also allows for some well placed innuendos (“Did he kiss you on the Cutty Sark?”) – all of which are densely-packed into a laugh-out-loud script.
Unusually, creator Andrew Pollard does not appear as the Dame this year, giving that role over to serial Greenwich panto villain Anthony Spargo – but Pollard does make a brief appearance at the top of the show as the pre-recorded Hailey’s comet.
As per usual, Greenwich’s panto is a very ensemble affair with no stunt casting to detract from the material itself. Louise Young as the titular Cinderella returns to Greenwich after playing Wendy in last year’s Peter Pan – and never puts a foot wrong. Opposite her is the literally charming Michael Lanni as the Prince whose beaming smile is quite infectious. Paul Eritoph gives an exuberant performance as the Barron, his warm authoritative voice entirely right for the forgetful scientist. The uglies – Miley and Kylie – are played by a girl and boy pairing: Lizzy Dive and the previously name-checked Spargo. The latter gets most of the meat in his role, channelling the familiar performances of Pollard from Christmases gone by.
But surely it is Buttons, played by James Keningale, that gets most of the stage time. Hopelessly in love with Cinderella, but never finding a partner himself, I was waiting for the kiss between him and Charming’s envoy Dandini that never came. We’re in London; It’s 2017 – surely this isn’t still too taboo for panto?
Of course it ticks many of the boxes you’d expect. Corny jokes; puns galore; hidden jokes for the adults designed deliberately to go over the young ‘uns heads (with nods to cultural references like The Court Jester, Marlon Brando and Brexit) – but it lacks some of the clever tricks of previous years. No 3D; No lasers; No owls. I say this because these are some of the things Greenwich have spoilt us with previously – surprised us with the ingenuity, and Cinderella feels like we’re treading a much safer path. But it’s still a great show with a fantastic cast that can navigate the genre with aplomb. Oh yes it is.