You’ll have a ball at this year’s Alban Arena panto Cinderella

PUBLISHED: 16:32 10 December 2018 | UPDATED: 16:37 10 December 2018

Pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.

Pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.

Pamela Raith Photography

This year’s St Albans pantomime Cinderella opened last week. Matt Adams reviews The Alban Arena show.

Bob Golding as Dandini in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.Bob Golding as Dandini in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.

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.

Rachel Stevens as the Fairy Godmother in panto Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.Rachel Stevens as the Fairy Godmother in panto Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.

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.

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.

Prince Charming (Kane Oliver Parry) and Cinderella (Jemma Carlisle) in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.Prince Charming (Kane Oliver Parry) and Cinderella (Jemma Carlisle) in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.

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.

Pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.Pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.

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.

The Alban Arena's production of Cinderella.The Alban Arena's production of Cinderella.

Another production worth its weight in Gold(ing).

It fits! Prince Charming tries on the slipper on Cinders' foot in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.It fits! Prince Charming tries on the slipper on Cinders' foot in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.

Prince Charming (Kane Oliver Parry) and Cinderella (Jemma Carlisle) in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.Prince Charming (Kane Oliver Parry) and Cinderella (Jemma Carlisle) in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.

Dandini (Bob Golding) with the Ugly sisters in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.Dandini (Bob Golding) with the Ugly sisters in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.

The Ugly sisters and Cinderella (Jemma Carlisle) in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.The Ugly sisters and Cinderella (Jemma Carlisle) in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.

Cinderella (Jemma Carlisle) off to the ball in a flying carriage in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.Cinderella (Jemma Carlisle) off to the ball in a flying carriage in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.

The Fairy Godmother (Rachel Stevens) and Cinders (Jemma Carlisle) in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.The Fairy Godmother (Rachel Stevens) and Cinders (Jemma Carlisle) in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.

Buttons (Ben Faulks) and Cinders (Jemma Carlisle) in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.Buttons (Ben Faulks) and Cinders (Jemma Carlisle) in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.

The Ugly sisters bullying Cinderella (Jemma Carlisle) in Pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.The Ugly sisters bullying Cinderella (Jemma Carlisle) in Pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.

Ian Kirkby as Baron Hardup and Ben Faulks as Buttons in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.Ian Kirkby as Baron Hardup and Ben Faulks as Buttons in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.

Fairy Godmother (Rachel Stevens) in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.Fairy Godmother (Rachel Stevens) in pantomime Cinderella at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Pamela Raith Photography.

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