From the start, Cinderella at the Everyman signals that it intends to reinvent the genre. I’m not sure why, exactly, other than perhaps new writer, Luke Barnes, trying to stamp his mark.
So, in the already anarchic world of panto, stock characters are inverted. Hence we have a Fairy Drag Mother, a Wicked Stepfather and a pair of Ooglay (means ugly apparently but had to look this up in the Urban Dictionary) sisters, Dench and Judi, whilst Dolce and Gabbana become reversed as Gabbana and Dolce.
It’s panto so anything goes. But standing national treasure Judi Dench on her head jars a bit. It’s not particularly funny so what’s it trying to say?
Well, the changes don’t stop there. Cinderella isn’t actually a character; she’s the cartoon-drawn alter ego of Ellanora, who really isn’t interested in marrying any princes. Charming is a nerd just trying to find himself and cut the apron strings of his tiger mother, the Queen.
Mr Ooglay, Ellanora’s stepfather, played by Zoe West, channelling her best Del Boy in a curiously un-Scouse cast, is just doing his best for his daughters, who just want to find their true colours. I suspect the production of undertones of wokery…
So, nothing and nobody is as you’d expect. The problem with this is twofold: the audience don’t know how to respond, and the actors don’t quite know how to play it. Lacking any real baddie, there is no real adversity to overcome and no heroes to plump for. It all falls a tiny bit flat.
Fortunately, the main action is predicated around the Fairy Godmother, and her assistant Our Graham, in their final mission before retirement to bring two lovers together. Putting the pantomime dame front and centre is something we understand.
Yet even this is undercut by making Our Graham her apprentice rather than, more conventionally, her lover. Don’t get me wrong: I adore Adam Keast. Something about those fruity vowels in that neat, twinkle-toed package, effeminate yet so masculine… But the comic potential between him and Ben Welch’s Fairy Godmother is squandered along with their chemistry.
But, nonetheless, do go and see this. The Everyman is such a great space that you are never more than a handful of rows from the action. The music is live and very loud, ranging from modern-day Kylie to a beautiful rendition of Radiohead’s Creep.
Aminita Francis as Queen raises the roof with her powerhouse vocals and there’s the usual serving of double entendre, fabulous costume and water pistol action. Nor can you fault the cast’s credentials; they are all singing, all dancing and all instrument-playing. There’s glitter and glitz and spectacle.
I was, however, disappointed not to see any fairies descend from the ceiling; perhaps Ben Welch is too tall to get airborne? But it does serve as a metaphor for the whole production: you can’t say it doesn’t take off; it just doesn’t hit the heights we know the Everyman panto is capable of.
Lead image: Ben Welch (Dame Fairy Godmother), Grace Venus (Ellanora) & Adam Keast (Graham) in Cinderella
Images credit: Marc Brenner