Jude Riley reviews the Cinderella pantomime on at Milton Keynes Theatre until 14th January, 2018.
Everybody has a favourite panto. Oh no they don’t! Oh yes they do! (Oh, come on, if you can’t trot out clichés in the festive season, when can you?)
Mine is most definitely Cinderella. It’s got everything you could possibly wish for in a family Christmas show: an overworked, underpaid, put-upon, sweet-natured and pretty heroine, two shockingly outrageous ugly step-sisters, a handsome (if dopey) Prince Charming, a fabulously glamorous Fairy God(k)mother, the cheeriest of faithful retainers in Buttons and more glitter and sparkle than you could ever imagine finding in a million galaxies.
At least, in this year’s panto at Milton Keynes Theatre it has.
Not only that but MK’s seasonal offering has a magical flying coach sequence that knocks most other pumpkin turned glass carriage effects into a cocked hat. Not that it dispenses with the ‘Ahhh’ factor of the entrance onto the stage of the Cinderella must have - a Shetland pony. No, every little girl’s favourite four-legged actor makes an appearance but in this case, there’s a double treat in store during the transformation scene…!
As for the human performers, the ensemble players dance, sing and act their way through the festive fun with joyous energy and professionalism. And they look terrific. The costume and set designs are gorgeous with, for once, no indication that they’ve been patched up and dragged out year after year in production revivals up and down the country.
Pictured: Gok Wan as the 'Fairy Gokmother' and Brian Conley as 'Buttons'.
No, this is fresh, funny, family entertainment that, frankly, leaves you feeling full-on festive.
I say ‘family’ entertainment and indeed there is plenty of silly business, audience participation and jokes (particularly those majoring on the passing of wind) for the kids. But this is also a showpiece tour-de-force performance from Brian Conley, who commands the entire stage with his all-purpose loveable panto hero – in this case Buttons.
Conley may not have conquered the technique of ballroom dancing on this year’s Strictly but he is master of the art of pantomime frontsmanship. And, as he’s credited with being co-writer of the show, it’s no surprise that he’s completely comfortable when it comes to ad-libbing and messing about to the sheer delight of yes, the young but mostly the old in the audience. And while he may not have got too far down the competitive line on Strictly, it’s a priceless source of endless reference material and gags.
To work well, panto has to be a team effort. And there’s no better team than the pairing of Gok Wan, as the Fairy Gokmother, with Conley’s Buttons. Gok is adorable in the role but also a strong enough stage presence to counterbalance the rough and ready unpredictability of Conley’s hilarious performance.
Picture: Cinderella is the "perfect festive entertainment".
But their double act is not the only Cinderella success story in this show. Ben Stock and Neal Wright, as Tess and Claudia, are the perfect Ugly Sisters duo – astonishingly vulgar and fabulously monstrous at the same time. Wonderful stuff!
It’s tough being the ‘normal’ characters in a pantomime when you are surrounded by such larger than life personalities but Matthew Goodgame, as Prince Charming, Matthew Malthouse, as Dandini and Lauren Hall as Cinderella are no colourless ‘also rans’. Each of them sing marvellously and play their parts with energy, warmth and an over-riding sense of fun.
If you’ve just realised that it’s holiday time and you haven’t yet booked to see a show, give yourself and your family or friends a treat; Cinderella is perfect festive entertainment. Oh yes it is!
Cinderella is running at Milton Keynes theatre until 14th January, 2018. See here for details: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/cinderella/milton-keynes-theatre/#buy-now