It’s a case of Cinder oh la la

ugly sisters

Kate Playdon as Brie and Stacey Victoria Bland as Camembert - complete with cheesy grins (groan)

Cinderella

Lichfield Garrick

****

THE Lichfield Garrick might be a small theatre, but when it comes to panto time it punches well above its weight year after year with some delightful, family shows.

This year was no different although, at a schools performance, the opening, set in Paris, threw the audience of mainly children a little, after all they are used to Cinderella being set in . . . er . . . does anyone know where Cinderella is usually set?

There is perhaps an element of tradition in the hop across the Channel though in that the most popular version, which introduced pumpkins, fairy godmother and glass slipper, dates back to 1697.

Then it was called Cendrillon and found in a collection of children’s stories with the catchy title of Fairy Tales from Past Times with Morals or Mother Goose by Parisian author Charles Perrault who was 69 at the time of publication. The book also introduced other fairy tale characters such as Sleeping Beauty and included a new character, Little Red Riding Hood.

So, in truth, Cinderella was only going home after some 317 years.

Ian Adams, who adapted and directed the tale, has also strayed from panto tradition by having the ugly sisters, Brie and Camembert, as women, but as Rodgers and Hammerstein ian adamswould have it, there is nothing like a dame, so enter Adams, again, giving his frock collection an airing as Madame Zulieka, a gypsy fortune teller who has a part-time job as a Fairy Godmother.

Kate Playdon as Brie and Stacey Victoria Bland as Camembert have a difficult job as the uglies. Two blokes in dresses is a guaranteed immediate laugh, with a collection of outlandish frocks adding to the hilarity. Two women in dresses is . . . well . .  it means they start at a disadvantage but you quickly warm to them as spoilt, nasty little brats as the assistant baddies in the affair.

Ian Adams as Madame Zulieka, a new, fun, goody dame

The real baddy though is Andrea Miller as Madame Fromage, who runs the Hotel du Fromage where she is the big cheese . . . sorry, couldn’t resist it.

Madame looks stern and surely has a degree in evil as she forces a life of misery upon her stepdaughter Cinderella. It is a performance of real malice and deserves every boo, and there were many, at a decibel level only a theatre full of small children can manage..

An audience of schoolchildren though present a different challenge for the cast; for instance every song has an immediate clap along accompaniment – apart from arch baddy Madame Fromage, who sang in a sort of defiant stony silence – and while children find some things funny which the cast didn’t expect, they miss some gems of humour which leave the cast with punch lines that lack, well, punch.

The subtleties (as a brick) of puns and corn were lost on them, as were ‘Allo ‘Allo references towards Arthur Bostrom who played Officer Crabtree in the BBC comedy series and entered with his trademark “Good Moaning”.

His role was Count Dandini de Tartare, which gave scope for regular remarks along the lines of ‘what a sauce, Tartare,’ which fell by the wayside, which was a pity. A good family panto still needs enough adults to give guidance and groaning judgement on such crimes against the mother tongue.

That aside there was still plenty for the youngsters to marvel at and become involved with, such as a shouted welcome to Madame Zulieka whenever he/she appeared, plenty of oh yes he is, oh no he isn’ts, songs to clap along to and a 60’s music finale which had people if not exactly dancing in the streets certainly bopping in their seats.

Oliver Ormson was a handsome Prince Charming while Samantha Dorsey gave us a pretty Cinderella, and the two sounded good when they sang, especially in their big duet, the Michel Legrand number (French again) I will Wait for You.

Panto tradition demands a Buttons and Alex Wadham fills the role as a likeable, amusing sort of chap. It’s a thankless task, saving Cinders from her life of cruelty and ending up without her, although, he at least ends up with a couple of attractive hotel chamber maids in Amy cibers and her princeThiroff and Emily Juniper, who along with Mark Williamson and Charlie Kendall, provide every other character as well as dancers and chorus. Nice to see song and dance man Admas, in high heels no less, leading them in a tap number.

There are also teams of happy children alternating between shows.

Adams might have introduced a new dame and changed the tale to a Paris setting, but has kept the narrative true, from wicked stepmother and step sisters through to the lost slipper and final happy ever after, and that is important. Children love to laugh, to cheer, boo, clap along, shout out when prompted, but they also love a story, and Adams gives them that, something to follow, even if they don’t get all the jokes.

I actually travelled home from Jersey Boys with Ian the other night and we both agree on one thing, panto might not rival Shakespeare, but it might well be more important.

Happy couple: Oliver Ormson as Prince Charming and Samantha Dorsey as pretty Cinderella

It is the first time many youngsters visit the theatre and if it is a magical experience, they are hooked.

And once hooked one day they might become theatregoers and, you never know, they might even watch the magic of Shakespeare.

And magic there was in Cinderella. The Garrick budget – and stage - doesn’t stretch to fantastic special effects such as flying coaches and horses, but it still managed a wonderfully flexible set full of French style, designed by John Brooking who gave us a rather fabulous, LED lit, glittering coach.

Adrian Jackson, the Garrick’s Chief Executive and Artistic Director, is a conductor and arranger when he is not doing his day job and led an excellent eight piece band perched on a balcony at the rear of the stage and it was nice to see some virtuoso solos from the musicians.

Put it all together and you have a fun, colourful, family-friendly traditional panto, even if it is set in Paris. My three and a half year old grandson enjoyed it, and with 60(ish) years on him, so did I. To 04-01-15

Roger Clarke

11-12-14

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