You’ll have a ball at this year’s Alban Arena panto Cinderella
- Credit: Pamela Raith Photography
This year’s St Albans pantomime Cinderella opened last week. Matt Adams reviews The Alban Arena show.
There’s something of a back to basics feel to this year’s Arena panto, which avoids some of the gimmicks of recent years (think 3-D film sequences and flying carpets) to focus on the script and performances in one of the most traditional shows of all.
Cinderella is a simple rags-to-riches tale which doesn’t even feature the same level of boo-hiss baddies found in many other pantomimes, although that’s not to denigrate the showstopping performances of ugly sisters Donaldina (Hugh O’Donnell) and Melania (Aaron Alexander), whose costumes plumb new depths of fashion bad taste (a nod to designer Helga Wood there!).
But unlike the more complicated plots of some other shows, this is really a love story with embellishments, and the focus will always be on the chemistry between Cinders and her Prince.
Fortunately Jemma Carlisle (making a long-overdue return to the Arena after several years away) and co-star Kane Oliver Parry deliver on expectations, comfortably selling the match between the pair and rarely was either absent from the stage throughout.
Headline stars Rachel Stevens (Fairy Godmother) and Ben Faulks (Buttons) put in professional performances which were packed with charm and personality, and the one major set-piece of the performance, coming at the end of Act One, was spectacular without being too showy.
But if there is one area where this show differs from the norm, then it is the fact that local legend Bob Golding, the man many people turn up specifically to see, was noticeable by his reduced appearance this year.
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Whereas he usually carries the show from curtain rise to fall, he didn’t tread the boards until around 25 minutes in, and even then his character of Dandini didn’t seem to be as omnipresent as some of his other roles.
His double act with the impeccable Ian Kirkby (Baron Hardup) remains as polished as ever, but the script should really have allowed them more time together.
Maybe it’s the fact that Bob was taking time out from the frocks and not playing this year’s Dame, so it’s good to know he’ll be back in drag next Christmas.
These are the only criticisms of what was once again a spectacular show, with a script sharper than the sword given to the Baron as a present (and that set up a particularly daring line which had mums and dads in stitches!), the rapid-fire of gags barely giving the audience time to recover laughing to one before being whacked in the funny bone by another.
Writer Paul Hendy must spend 12 months working on cramming as many one-liners into two hours as humanly possible, and he rarely misses with either the tone or the timing.
The recognition of the somewhat sexist nature of the original Cinderella story was handled adeptly and with good humour, as was the message about why we should never condone bullying in any shape or form.
Kudos to Evolution Productions for referencing both elements, when other pantos might have let them slip by unnoticed.
As usual, it’s essential to view any panto through the eyes of children, and this year I spent watching with my six-year-old daughter and her three-year-old friend.
Their attention was transfixed throughout, and they both joined in with the cheers, the boos and the other usual prompts, before ending Act Two literally dancing in the aisles (apologies to the disgruntled family whose view was occasionally spoiled by my daughter’s elaborate routine, but I’m glad the guy sitting next to us found three-year-old Mollie so entertaining!).
For adults, there are enough subtle in-jokes and local references to ensure it’s a pleasure not a chore, and ultimately the entire family will come away feeling fully satisfied by the experience, and you can’t say better than that.
Another production worth its weight in Gold(ing).