Review by Daz Gale
Panto season is here again. Oh yes it is! And while most pantomimes are full of child friendly tropes such as shouting "HE'S BEHIND YOU", us grown ups deserve a bit of fun as well. And thus, the adult pantomime was born. If you like your pantos with more four letter words than a particularly bad episode of Countdown and more innuendo than you can fit in your end-o, The Other Palace may just have the panto for you with this year's offering A Very Very Bad Cinderella, but would this production be a costly mistake?
Following in the footsteps of last year's excellent Ghosted - Another F**king Christmas Carol, A Very Very Bad Cinderella takes all the tried and tested elements to a panto and brings them to this classic story in a way you will have never seen before. With a previous version being seen at the Turbine Theatre in 2020, this new iteration of Cinderella has been ingeniously retitled to reference Andrew Lloyd Webber's not so ingeniously titled Bad Cinderella. The basic premise still sees Cinderella go to the ball along with her sisters although this plot is touched upon occasionally as the focus pulls more on setting up the next random sketch, such is the nature of pantomimes.
Unfortunately, something about this production doesn't land. While it can be seen as a love letter to musical theatre with no shortage of references to performers, shows and recent events that have rocked the theatre world of late, the references themselves have been used as the punchline with seemingly no thought to how to actually structure the joke so it becomes funny. Merely saying the name of a show in what can be a very niche reference is not enough to elicit a laugh as the worryingly quiet audience on the night I visited testified. It is the writing that stops this panto delivering with jokes we have either heard before or shouldn't have been deemed good enough to make the cut.
While there are more misses than hits, a few moments enjoy more success such as Vajayjay's (Imelda Warren-Green) brilliant story involving many a musical theatre title and a tongue-twisting conversation. A particularly pleasing rendition of 'Don't Cha' shows Sunset Boulevard isn't the only Pussycat Doll related musical to see this Christmas. Musical fans will be delighted with the familiar songs from shows such as Waitress, Hamilton, Six, Guys & Dolls and even The Prom performed, all with tweaked lyrics relating to the story and absurdity of the situations to a varied degree of success. Of course, we are also treated to a bit of ‘Bad Cinderella’ though attempting to parody a song so unserious to begin with is in itself a recipe for disaster. One element of the show that cannot be faulted however is in its exceptional cast. Keanna Bloomfield delights in her dual roles of Buttons and The Prince encapsulating the panto spirit and the madness of it all perfectly. Veronica Green and Imelda Warren-Green are a formidable double act as sisters Fanny and Vajayjay, displaying excellence in comic timing, no shortage of stage presence and vocals for days. Despite surprisingly being underused in comparison to her sisters, the undoubted star of the show belongs to May Tether as the titular Cinderella. There is nothing bad about her performance here as anyone who has seen her before will testify to what a powerhouse vocalist she is here. It’s a shame she doesn’t have much to do with the material as she really is the best thing about this production. Also look out for an uncredited but brilliant pre-recorded video from the fabulous Oscar Conlon-Morrey whose tongue-in-cheek cutting remarks were a bit too on the nose at times.
I get the sense that with A Very Very Bad Cinderella, the writers attempted to throw everything they could in an attempt to see what sticks. Unfortunately, the end result is incredibly messy and as inconsistent as it gets. Though there are admittedly and refreshingly a handful of hilarious moments, these are unfortunately negated by far more misfires. I don't expect much logic from an adult pantomime but the inclusion of a well-loved puppet from the 1980s was one step too far on my weirdness ladder and led to a sequence that I'll be discussing in therapy for years to come. It felt like they had no shortage of material to play with here and the punchlines were there for the taking but somehow these opportunities were never quite taken. It's ironic that this show is named after the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that was dogged with problems as A Very Very Bad Cinderella suffers the same fate. Confused, messy, and inconsistent writing stops this from being the runaway success it so could have been which is especially frustrating given the brilliance that was its 2020 socially distanced incarnation. There is also the argument that I am an old Scrooge who needs to lighten up and stop expecting every panto I see to meet a certain standard, but I will counter that argument by saying theatre deserves a higher quality and substandard writing lets it all down. Of course, it is important to remember, as always, that this is merely one person’s opinion and the beauty of theatre is in how we all respond differently to the same shows. Other people near me enjoyed this panto far more than I did so I would encourage others to give it a chance despite my own thoughts, However, for me personally, A Very Very Bad Cinderella is not your panto, it's a bad panto.
A Very Very Bad Cinderella plays at The Other Palace until 7th January. Tickets from theotherpalace.co.uk