CINDERELLA AT THE WOLVERHAMPTON GRAND THEATRE
Performance Run: Saturday 6 December 2014 - Sunday 18 January 2015
Performance Reviewed: Tuesday 9 December 2014 (Press Night)
Reviewed by Kyle Pedley
I will not be resorting to any cheap panto puns to open my review this year…
If you didn’t just mentally (or verbally!) shout ‘Oh yes you will’ then you may not be quite ready for panto season, but ready or not (here I come…), it is upon us, and the perfect remedy for that particular ill would be a timely visit to the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre’s Cinderella. Headlined by the master of innuendo and dry asides, Julian Clary, and featuring the signature glitz and spectacle that QDOS Pantomimes throw at all of their major productions, this festive staple is everything you’d expect and want from your Christmas/New Year pantomime, with all the trimmings and even a couple of very welcome surprises along the way.
Cinderella contains all the staples of the classic fairytale squeezed through the panto filter - this time round there’s no wicked stepmother but rather Cinder’s oafish father Baron Hardup (Iain Stuart Robertson), though mercifully the ugly sisters are present and accounted for, serving dual roles as both villainesses and panto dames, with Ben Stock and Tony Jackson giving great devilish drag, even if some of the pop culture references they are lumbered with (Britain’s Got Talent, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way and dress sense) are a good few years past their funny. Still, the kids and family audience lapped them up, and Stock in particular showed off some razor-shop timing and comedic physicality. The only lament with the duo is their juggling of being the dames, the villains and comedy characters in their own rights leaves the show lacking a central, truly detestable villain as a result - the concept of a pantomime baddie now having engrained itself in our cultural psyche. The uglies are mean and nasty, but never mount that podium of panto derision and jeer.
Alice Baker plays the titular princess-to-be (spoiler alert), and is spritely, endearing and consummately likeable - a marked improvement on last year’s Lucy Evans (Sleeping Beauty). It’s a cookie-cutter role, this being panto and all, but Baker sells it with sweetness and conviction, not easy to do when speaking to children dressed up as eery, non-responsive woodland critters or sharing the stage with hyperactive Joe Tracini. Tracini, son of comedian Joe Pasquale (who headlined last year’s show) is the perfect Buttons, and whilst there is noticeable crossover in style and even material from father to son (a hiding-behind-the-sofa gag used here having been a staple of Pasquale’s for years), Tracini does a terrific, energised job, bringing a flavour of silly, borderline slapstick humour which mercifully doesn’t tread on the toes of Clary’s particular brand of funny. Tracini also gets the chance to show off a genuinely impressive voice with a terrific sombre solo number, and if the moment feels a little shoehorned in, the show at least has the decency to acknowledge so.
Leaving the best for last, Julian Clary as the naturally flamboyant Dandini deadpans his way through proceedings with wit and innuendo to spare. Throwing barbs at the audience, his fellow cast and, of course, plenty of knowing winks and nudges to the ludicrousness of the whole thing, Clary, as expected, dominates the show, even if some of his admittedly hilarious routine and approach lacks some of it’s usual spark and precision. He’s the perfect levity for adults, with much of his double entendres likely to go over the heads of the younger audiences, who will nevertheless find plenty to enjoy in his over the top costumes, occasional dances and even the odd musical number, all of which are hilarious by dint of their awfulness, Clary adopting a spoken-sung approach which again fits perfectly with his light-hearted derision at the show as a whole. It’s worth pointing out that Clary is a routine panto stalwart, and whilst he gets a lot of mileage and laughs out of his putdowns, asides and cutting wordplay in general, it never crosses over into mean-spiritedness or cynicism.
The (great?) British panto is a tradition of the most embraced yet derivative order here in the UK, so most of the productions live or die by their ensemble. Cinderella has no problems there - boasting a strong line-up bolstered immensely by the comedic wattage of both Clary and Tracini, whilst Baker should also be commended for being the perfect panto heroine. Former X Factor contestant and West End star Niki Evans belts out a couple of numbers with her powerhouse voice, a suitably glamorous, and distinctly Black Country, fairy godmother, whose corset should undoubtedly be in the running for some sort of ‘Best Supporting Artist’ award.
It’s all safe, spirited, family-friendly fun, precisely in the mould of what can and should be expected from a mainstream pantomime production, and all given the trademark QDOS’ sprinkling of quality and musical razzmatazz. It won’t convert any naysayers, but nor should it attempt to, especially not when all involved are so busy poking fun at themselves as much as at anybody else around them. There are pantos a-plenty on offer in and around the Midlands this Winter, but positively erupting with laughs, silliness, song and dance, and particularly with Captain Clary at the helm, the good ship Cinderella is certainly a dock worth porting your ship into this Christmas.
... I thought Julian would appreciate an innuend-on.
(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * (3 out of 5 Stars)
+ QDOS usual standard of Panto excellence
+ Clary as hilarious as ever, offering plenty for the grown-ups
+ Tracini's humour complements, rather than complicates
+ Alice Baker a likeable lead easy to cheer for
+ It's Panto time!
- Some of the pop culture gags and references are old hat
- Lacks a solid, boo-hiss-able villain, a panto pre-requisite
- It's Panto time! (for some)
CINDERELLA is running at the Wolverhampton Grand from Saturday 6 December 2014 to Sunday 18 January 2015.
Alternatively, call the Box Office directly on 01902 429212 now to book your tickets!
Press tickets for this performance of Cinderella were provided courtesy of the Wolverhampton Grand directly. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.