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REVIEW: Cinderella at Newcastle People’s Theatre
The People’s Panto is a ball of a show!
16th December 2018
Nova Radio North East’s Robert Wilson Baker continues
his Panto-viewing season with a trip to the People’s Theatre in Heaton to see
the biggest tale of them all…Cinderella!
This was an unexpected trip
in my continually expanding Panto-viewing schedule (I’ve now counted 12
Productions between November and February) and my first time experiencing a
Panto at the People’s Theatre. It’s worth mentioning now that despite this
production being classed as an amateur production, I will be reviewing it with
the expectations of any production I see; more so in this instance as all the
performers have chosen to be there and have put in multiple months of hard work
to deliver a performance they hopefully will be proud of.
Cinderella a much-loved
fairy tale and regarded as the nation’s favourite Pantomime story. This version
takes a very different stance on the famous story. We first meet Fairy Moonglow
(Lynn Huntley), a fairy veteran in Once Upon A Time land, who invites us to join
our story in Heatonville. This is abruptly interrupted by Countess Malady (Cat
White), a former fairy turned mortal, who has come to spoil her sister’s plans
of helping Cinderella (Georgia White).
The story moves to
Heatonville where we meet our heroine and her best friend Buttons (Joe Robson)
who makes an engagement as the audience’s new best friend. Cinderella’s dad,
Count Harry Hardup (Roger Liddle), arrives back from his travels to break the
news of his marriage to his daughter. With this news comes extra arrivals in
the form of the Step Sisters, Calpolla (Stephen Waller) and Covonia (Dan
Dickinson). The sisters instantly enforce their wicked ways and along with
their mother force Cinderella to become a servant and send her into the woods
to collect fire wood. Moonglow’s magic enlists the help of Buttons to guide her
along her travels. In the meantime, we meet Prince Charming (Nick Warneford)
who straight swaps with his right-hand man Dandini (James Hardy) in order find
a normal girl who will accept him for more than just a prince.
Following the typical
meeting with the prince, Cinderella’s story sticks more loosely to tradition:
the prince organises a ball, the sisters and Count Malady force Cinderella to
tear her own ticket up, Moonglow grants Cinderella’s wish (and Buttons wish to
be a very famous animated character).
Act 2 sees the
introduction of a Master of Ceremonies character Flunky (Callum Clarke) who
acts as a secondary Dandini. We also see Count Malady up to her wicked ways,
distracting Cinderella from leaving before midnight. This is where the biggest
change to the story is; we get to see the magic reverse around us with Buttons
being caught by the ugly sisters in mortal form. The rest of the story from
here deviates back to tradition with finding the slipper, the prince’s search
for his missing princes and the calamity the shoe fitting. And of course, the
story ends with a happily ever after!
The People’s Theatre
have the foundations of what could be a winning Panto formula for future shows.
This production shows load of promise and heart mixed with some amazing sets in
an awkward theatre (at least 1/2 of the staging area is in front of the front
The casting is very
safe but include many standout performances. Lynn Huntley’s Fairy Moonglow is
the definition of a Fairy Godmother. Her presence is felt from the start, her
comic timing is faultless and her old school-esque vocal tone works well with
her transformation song at the end of Act 1. She also holds very good rapport
with evil counterpart Cat White, who’s very secure in her evil skin and has
marvellous stage presence.
Elsewhere Roger Liddle
plays a delightfully, quirky Count Hardup and Callum Clarke is very underused
unconventional Prince Charming goes down a treat with his overexerted persona
and crystal-clear vocals. He is also the catalyst for partnerships with Georgia
White’s Cinderella, showcasing some nice vocals both solo and in duet with
Warneford, and James Hardy as Dandini, who despite looking uncomfortable in his
Panto surrounding gives a sound attempt.
Credit must be given to
Joe Robson as Buttons. Despite having virtually no voice, he gave 110% with
full energy and physicality. It’s a shame the script also doesn’t showcase
Robson’s comedic quirks and Buttons pathos more, something I feel should be
present in every comic lead. Furthermore, I overheard one family in the
interval saying that Robson is their family favourite every year and they felt
this year was no exception. I’m very much looking forward to seeing him develop
in future years.
The Ugly sisters in
this story steal the show. Stephen Waller and Dan Dickinson are a triumphant
duo, serving a fine mix of comedy, wickedness, audience participation and
stunning vocals, costumes and wigs (credit must be given to Chris Carr for the
fabulous design) For all I could have known, these two could easily be a
professional sister team.
It is also worth
mentioning that the cast is backed an army of 10 adult chorus, 5 senior dancers
from Newcastle High School for Girls, 4 teams of 20+ Juniors and 4 teams of 10-20
babes, with this performance featuring Team B’s Juniors and Babes. This London
Palladium sized ensemble were the true stars, supporting the principals with
superb choreography from the 5 Seniors and Adult Chorus in the ballroom scene,
and to get that many child dancers to do more than basic choreography at the
time is a win win.
Despite having no live
band, which is a preferred option amongst the team at NE Theatre Guide, the
tracks had orchestral richness which vibrated through the auditorium. The song
choices were very far between, some not fitting with the context of advancing
the story but some really worked, notably Huntley’s Act 1 rendition of ‘Come
Alive’ and Warneford and White’s Act 2 ballad of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna
Dance with Somebody’. Baby Shark also makes welcome appearance in the Community
The script for me is
the only major let down. Phil Meeks’ script delivers some good moments but
overall lacks in the clarity with an over confused plot and missed opportunity
for real comedy moments, particularly with Buttons’ characterisation. Emma Jane
Richards has done a sterling job to make the best of this, producing a nicely
packed production with the right mix of production elements.
With tickets on sale
for next year’s production ‘Dick Whittington’ and limited tickets available for
the rest of this year’s run, The People’s Pantomime proves to be a pleasant
treat for all the family and long may it continue to grow and find the success
that it’s currently developing.
Review: Robert Wilson Baker Photos: Richard Gardner