Like sprouts, family arguments and getting clothes as presents, Pantomime is one of the much-loved shit Christmas traditions in Britain. Everyone jokes about has-beens or never-weres starring in them, but much of the time it’s just one or two ex-somebodies performing with a stageful of soon-to-be-somebodies!
Yes, the big names draw the crowds but it’s the ensemble that often carries the show. But more of that later. I’ve just got back from seeing Cinderella at The New Theatre, Cardiff with Aimee and her Mum and it was great. Starring Lee Mead as Prince Charming, Linda Lusardi as The Fairy Godmother and Andy Jones as Buttons (along with an absurdly-cast Gareth “Alfie” Thomas as Dandini the show was – as you’d expect – superbly unusual and a whole lot of fun. I won’t bore you with a recap – everyone knows the story of Cinderella – so let’s talk about the production itself. The staging was wonderful, the scenery magnificent and the musical numbers were fantastic. Incorporating current chart hits and some original songs, it was a very modern musical palette, topped of with some reassuringly bad jokes – aimed at kids of all ages, even the biggest among us – and the traditional ribbing for the locals of Splott, Newport and Ely.
Alfie stripping off to his Welsh Flag boxers while singing LMFAO’s “Sexy And I Know It”, with Mike Doyle’s assistance is an image neither my fiancée, nor my Mother In Law I reckon, will get out of their heads any time soon. He can’t act, he can’t sing, he can’t dance either but he still got the biggest cheers. That’s local hero status for you. Mike Doyle, too, didn’t disappoint: He did his voice and pulled that face he does. What more could we expect? And Lee Mead was “talented and bland” enough to be the romantic lead in a stage production that is all about the Ugly Sisters, as far as anyone in the audience cares.
But despite a great “Celebrity Cast” (Linda Lusardi is still gorgeous, Andy Jones still chummily likeable) it was the lesser-known members of the company that sold the show, heart-wise. Relative newcomer Holly Bluett was beautiful, gentle and funny as a welsh-accented, red-haired Cinders, displaying a real pride to be leading this cast (and quite right too, she should be proud!) and did a spectacular job – one to watch out for, I reckon. The dancers were great too; only six of them, but they filled the stage with their energy. But special mention should be made of the kids from The Lorri Guppy School Of Dance & Performing Arts – none of them over eight years old, I’d wager – who drew every “Awwwww and Aaaahhhh” in the room every time they were on stage, be it as footmen, woodland creatures or fairies-in-training.
Yes, the big names draw the crowds in, the rest of the cast hold their attention with their talent and then the kids make sure nobody over twenty-five leaves the theatre with dry eyes. That’s how Panto works and work it did. I felt the audience tonight was a little less generous in their interaction and applause that your average mixed-bag Panto crowd but the cast powered on and clearly loved every second of the show. As did I. Pantomime isn’t easy, despite its chaotic nature. Getting the balance right is important: Too smutty and you lose the kids, too childish and you lose the mums and dads. Cinderella managed to perfectly blend fart gags, romance, a tongue-twister about pooing and weeing, some unbelievable scenery transitions (I honestly didn’t notice the house melt away and the palace arrive! It was superbly done!), enough pop songs to get keep you singing all the way home in the car and a running joke about the Prince holding his balls – I laughed more than I expected, sang and shouted until my throat was raw and left with a massive, beaming smile on my chops.
I could go on, but I won’t. Tonight we got great comics being really silly, some decent telly names singing and joking, lovely dancers, cute kids and a wonderfully talented Cinderella. It wasn’t cheap, but then it’s Christmas, so you can’t moan too much. I can’t rave about the show enough! Cinderella at The New Theatre in Cardiff: There until early January. Please go and see it! It’s fantastic!