CINDERELLA at Birmingham Hippodrome

 

In the first half of last night’s performance of Cinderella  Matt Slack made a quip during a Strictly-style ‘dance off’ with co-star Danny Mac that his sequined shirt was worth the ticket-price alone. While this was jest, it is certainly true that the audience got their money’s worth and more in a highly entertaining production with bags of seasonal feel good factor.

The wardrobe alone must have cost more than the national debt of Moldova, with more sparkle and glimmer than a Swarovski warehouse. The costumes and wigs of the ugly sisters Voluptua and Verruca, played predictably in drag by Ceri Dupree and David Dale, were insanely over-the-top, and changed entirely for each of their scenes. This could have been a contender for the Guinness World Record for speed-dressing. Cinderella’s transformation from humble servant girl to the bedazzling Princess Starlight was even more impressive, a whirling trompe d’oeuil.

Production values were first rate with a vibrant and constantly changing set, state of the art lighting, pyrotechnics and spectacular visual special effects that launched both the Fairy Godmother and Cinderella’s coach into mid-air at either end of the first act. Although these flying effects were not to return after the interval, there were some really clever innovations giving a ‘4D’ experience. To say more would be a spoiler.

Nor did producer Michael Harrison make cutbacks on hiring a quality cast of multi-talented actors, singers and dancers. The big name on the billboard is the sensational soul singer Beverley Knight. We learned during the performance that this was her first ever pantomime appearance. Seeing how comfortable she looked on stage, whether singer or acting, I would not have guessed it. She is an outstanding vocalist in her genre and totally nailed her songs with her warm, rich and powerful voice. There were strong vocals, too, from Suzanne Shaw as Cinderella and Danny Mac as Prince Charming. Even James Brandon of The Grumbleweeds sang his heart out in a duet with Knight, their voices soaring “where eagles fly on a mountain high” in a great cover of the theme from An Officer and a Gentleman.

But Brandon’s main role was to play straight man to the lunacy of fellow Grumbleweeder, Robin Colvill, whose comic timing and slapstick shenanigans had the audience literally crying with laughter at times. Yet the comedian that held the show together, an ad lib natural and deviously clever, was slick Matt Slack. For me, he is a master pantomime performer, directing the cast in the moment and keeping the pace both tight and flowing.

If I have one criticism of the production it is that there were no efforts to modernise or take risks. The narrative was told in exactly the same way as it is told very year in almost every theatre, the formula was the tried and tested predictable model, and the only surprises were comedic ones. Nonetheless, the comedy had me laughing out loud on numerous occasions, the dancing and singing were first rate, and the overall performance was very enjoyable.   ★★★★☆   Robert Gainer   22nd December 2017

 

Photo by Paul Coltas.