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The story of Cinderella had been told for hundreds of years before Charles Perrault wrote the version we know the best today, and it has gone through many changes from an early Chinese version through Egyptian and Italian versions and the Brothers Grimm to Roald Dahl’s more macabre retelling, so there is nothing unusual in the Lyric having made their own version. It has its roots in the traditional pantomime treatment but is shorn of moonlighting soap opera and sports stars and the line-up from the local dancing school. No writer is credited: it’s been ‘devised by the Company’. That can so often mean a lack of clear direction, but here they have kept it very simple, exploiting their own talents. They share their own obvious enjoyment with the audience who were lapping it up when I saw it. It was a preview and there were still a few rough edges. But slick timing and special effects are not what this production is about and its very lack of sophistication is part of its success. There are some terrible puns and ‘knock, knock’ jokes which all go down a treat.
With set and costumes by Anthony McIlwaine, this production is set in a rundown fairground where Cinderella and her family live in the helter-skelter. The ‘Spanish Amusement Park’ is owned by ‘Prince’ Pedro de Gonzago who goes hand-walking upside down to heaven having bequeathed the Park to his grandson, Pedro Gonzago II (Javier Marzan).
Shereen Patrice, as Cinderella, is only six months out of acting school and so charming she doesn’t need to act — but can and does. She plays well with Bob Goody’s Frank, the fairground repair man and ticket seller (this show’s equivalent to Buttons) who is everybody’s favourite uncle. Her beautiful mother, a tightrope walker, had a fatal fall. Her father, the living cannonball, then married Ludmila Bulochka, a Russian dancer and mother of the Ugly Sisters, before accidentally being fired straight up to the moon. He is can still be seen up there, in orbit, when cloud cover doesn’t intervene.
Di Sherlock’s Ludmila isn’t one of those Russian peasants who move around like Babushka dolls on wheels. Oh no, she essays a lively czardas and even a Dying Swan and if being reminded of Cinderella’s mother gets her in a temper, Sherlock makes her very likeable. Yes, she does exploit her stepdaughter but not that much, and she is so fed up with her ugly daughters, she certainly gains our sympathy. As for Hortense and Diaphanta Bulochka, Antonio Gil Martinez (who also doubles as the first Prince Pedro) and John Ramm are hilarious. Bewigged, berouged and bedecked they are very much men playing women, squabbling and breaking into fisticuffs — beautifully timed so that we know the blows don’t really land and we get a clear license to laugh. There’s no Fairy Godmother: Cinders’ ball gown is courtesy of Madame Zarastro, the figure in a broken penny-in-the-slot fortune-telling machine who needs a kick and a bang as well as a coin to make her work. Geoffrey Carey doubles her with Dandini, the Prince’s sidekick, who keeps reminding him he’s not a real prince and getting the word prince wrong more times than you can imagine.
I bet this is the first time you will have seen Prince Charming booed by the audience; that’s because instead of doing up the fair, he has development plans so that Cinders… but I mustn’t give everything away. However, I will reveal that Prince Pedro sings ‘Blue Christmas’ not ‘White Christmas’ and doesn’t have a very good voice, but then being choked-up probably does take the edge off your vocal chords, and he makes up with a good stab at a tap dance and even manages to bring a genuine tear to your eyes — theatre magic really at work.
I thought that younger children might have some difficulty with Carlos I and Ludmilla’s heavy accents but those I asked told me indignantly they didn’t. One quibble: since it is well established that the ball will actually be at the fairground and that Madame Zorasto has no need of ‘the pumpkin and rats stuff’ to provide the transport, why do we see a distant Cinders riding away on a sleigh? It doesn’t make a good first act curtain and I wouldn’t be surprised it’s been cut by the time you read this.
What did you say, children? Oh, yes — I haven’t mentioned Jeremy Bines as Monkey, long-tailed, fezed and with a banana in his mouth, playing the Hammond Organ. They gave him as big a round as all those up on stage — and they loved them all. There is no chorus, no big transformation scene or spectacular finale, no reference to television shows or politicians and no blue jokes. Instead, there is a real rapport with the audience, a load of laughs and a genuinely touching happy ending.
Howard Loxton © 2003
Originally published on R&V on 04-12-03
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