This year saw Stuart Wade’s second directing role at the York Royal Opera House, in the Christmas production of Cinderella. Almost apologetic in its self-referential use of the pantomime clichés such as “Oh no he didn’t” and “He’s behind you”, Cinderella verged at times on the edge of attempting better things by parodying itself, but luckily veered its way back onto the road of cheesy dancing and amusingly horrendous drag well before it forgot that it was a family pantomime. Unfortunately Wade, who also stars in the show as Buttons, was “predisposed” and replaced by Andrew Fitch, whose step up from his normal role as Dandini left him energised but unsure, stumbling over his words and needing occasional subtle prompting from his colleagues.
The pantomime opened with Suzanne Carley as Cinderella performing ‘Walking on Sunshine’, which, like most of the songs that followed, had little if any connection to the storyline. Carley’s fixed white smile transfixed most of the audience enough that this mattered very little though; in fact the only time her obscene happiness jarred a little was when Syd Little, as her father, said “I wish you’d cheer up Cinderella” despite her smile still being big enough that you could probably count most of her teeth. She did provide the performance of the night though, her superb singing voice coming into its own ironically during the duets with Prince Charming, played solidly if unremarkably by Jason Lee Scott. Syd Little is apparently of ‘Little and Large’ fame, though it hinted at the age of those audience member who are likely to have heard of him when his first line was “Come on. Hands up who thought I was dead”. He managed a likeable performance, though he had the slight air of someone who had just stumbled on stage accidentally, seeming throughout the performance both confused and delighted at the position he seemed to have found himself in. Perhaps he was dazed to have got an acting job after so long out of the spotlight.
Many of smutty comments – set up by Paul Critchlow and Sean Luckham, who quite literally dazzled as the ugly step sisters – allowed for the adults to enjoy some gags of their own. The evil mother played by Lisa Riley of Emmerdale and You’ve Been Framed ‘fame’ was entertaining, if a little too likeable at times. Anyone who can illicit awe simply by the extent of their cheerfulness deserves all the praise they can get; even her numerous and shameless plugs for her children’s show were forgiven.
As Andrew Fitch had to step into the role of Buttons, Dandini was played by Sam Rippon, whose slightly lechy start (his idea of flirting as the young care-free Dandini involved “mmm” noises and a look that could make you cross the street) led on to an impressive performance given the three hours’ notice he was apparently given.
Some of the best performances came from the audience – most notably when a bewildered 3 year old was invited on stage to sing ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’. And when the best parts weren’t coming from the audience, they were coming from the numerous trips and tumbles that the actors managed in the most part to comically smooth over. Critchlow toppling off his chair and revealing a shaven head to the audience, as well as Fitch’s trip during an absurdly long ‘12 Days of Christmas’ performance which caused him to wince through the rest of the scene, merely provided the show with even more energy and a much needed sense of spontaneity, even if it was at the expense of the actors’ dignity.
The show was half an hour or so longer than it needed to be, partly because of the vast amounts of dance numbers, many of which, like the songs, had little relevance to the rest of the plot. One of the stronger dance numbers was a re-enactment of hunting; perhaps an ironic post-modernist political statement supporting Blair’s 2004 fox hunting ban, but more likely an excuse have adorable children aged around 6 hopped around in bunny costumes.
Despite that familiar pantomime feeling that the brightness has been turned up far too high in the world of ‘Hard Up Hall’, Cinderella provides a worthwhile evening out for the family.