Trudging through the snow and ice with the kids makes a pantomime feel particularly special. Perhaps it’s the anticipation of the warm atmosphere inside the theatre, or it might just be memories of being taken to Greenwich Theatre as a kid back in the ‘70s. Cinderella, this year’s Christmas panto doesn’t disappoint, it packs a punch in every department and leaves the audience overflowing with goodwill. It might lack the celebrity touch, but while Hasslehoff swashbuckles in Wimbledon and Melinda Messenger is the genii of Bromley, it is the strength of the ensemble that may make Greenwich’s offering the pick of the bunch.
Every performer works their brightly coloured socks off to give the audience a great time and the script, expertly written by Andrew Pollard, gives the whole cast a chance to shine. Pollard returns to Greenwich for the fifth time as a dame, this time as an ugly sister, so what better place to start when talking about this show? From the wispy tops of their ridiculous wigs to the handsomely constructed knickers under their fantastical dresses the ugly sisters, in the form of a thin Pollard and a wide Paul Critoph, relish every comic moment. Their sheer size gives them, literally, a comic head start as they totter around the stage on huge platform shoes. The audience loved the double entendres and their easy command of the stage – we know we’re in safe hands and the laughs are long and loud. Their set pieces, in the bedroom and the bathroom, are accomplished pieces of silliness and both performers know exactly how to use an improvised aside for maximum effect
Adam Dougal as Buttons builds a cheeky relationship with the audience, whilst Tania Mathurin, playing the Fairy Godmother, doesn’t have to rely on pyrotechnics to carry her through the show; she has a cracking voice and a presence to match. In fact all the cast are able to carry a song and Steve Marwick’s musical direction shrewdly caters for all age groups with medleys effortlessly merging The Andrews Sisters with the Eurythmics and Tinie Tempah. The show ends with the inevitable sing-along and such was the rapport that the cast had with the audience that I couldn’t see anybody who wasn’t joining in; it would have taken a real grouchnot to have gone along with the crowd.
Cinderella and Prince Charlemagne carry the main storyline. In panto these moments often flag as the audience anticipates the arrival of another comic scene, but in this production Hannah Wilding and Luke Kempner keep the momentum of the romantic plot going with good comic timing and help from Tommy Coleman’s strong Dandini.
The genre of pantomime requires the director to tread a fine line between polished amateurism and over-produced glitz, and this show not only treads the line but dances along it with glee. The director Kieron Smith keeps a tight reign on the performers, making sure the pace is fast and snappy, always leaving the audience wanting slightly more. The choreography is never too ambitious, but always witty and attractive. Mention should be made of the talented, hardworking and young group of singers and dancers that form the dance ensemble. Constantly energetic, this small group manages to punch well above its weight, creating the sense that there are many more performers than there actually are. This becomes a great strength as they confidently join in with the fun that the leads are having on stage.
The design of the show makes the most of the warmth that can be created in Greenwich Theatre, a proscenium arch, richly painted in gold and apricot colours, brings the actors as close to the audience as possible and makes the most of the stage’s thrust, allowing transformations to be effected through the revolving sets. The show achieves a huge amount with limited resources, so much can be achieved with a couple of mirror balls and a whiff of smoke; there’s something really attractive about a show that relies on the strength of the performers rather than the ‘wow’ of theatrical wizardry.
To be frank I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the show as much as I did, and I think that applied to most of the audience. Several hundred audience members got more than their money’s worth and, if you haven’t booked your seat, do so now. The show has already extended its run by 10 days to accommodate record ticket sales.