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Panto Review: Cinderella (Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith)

Review by Rosie Holmes


It’s the start of panto season! Oh no it isn’t! Oh yes, it is! The Lyric Theatre Hammersmith was my first pantomime trip of the season, with Cinderella being the choice for their annual Christmas show, setting the action in Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush. Let’s be honest, a visit to a pantomime is never for the plot, but in Vicki Stone’s Cinderella we are introduced to a sassier than usual Cinderella, one who puts chilli sauce in her sister’s smoothies, and runs a market stall selling jumpers for rodents (yes!).

Love interest Prince Henry of Hammersmith is yearning to be an ordinary boy, while his assistant is leaking his movements to the tabloids. Cinderella’s Step-Sisters and Step-Mum are fighting for the attention of Prince Henry, while they send Cinderella to the cellar and forbid her from attending Henry’s party. There are also plenty of relevant, contemporary references; TV show The Traitors, Penny Mordaunt’s scene-stealing sword holding at the King’s Coronation, and David Cameron’s recent new job posting, that may fly over the children’s heads, but will no doubt make the older audience members laugh.

There are definitely some plot holes, why does Prince Henry visit houses through the night to find Cinderella after she left the ball, when he knew exactly where she worked? Yet, there are plenty of pantomime traditions to distract from the absence of logic. There's the classic groan-inducing jokes and puns, a sing-along, screams of ‘he’s behind you’ and some cute kids on stage. There were also some fun but simple stage effects, which delighted the young audience members, which for me, is always one of the most joyous things about visiting a pantomime. There was a wonderful magic dress reveal, and a giant flying gerbil (yes, a giant flying gerbil), a wonderful mix of silliness and magic.

Tilly La Belle Yengo is Cinderella, sassy, an optimistic and loveable character that all the audience are easily able to root for. She shows her adaptability as a vocalist taking on Pulp’s “Disco 2000” and Taylor Swift’s “Antihero, clearly a favourite going by the cheers in the audience. Prince Henry is played by Damien James, a charismatic Prince with brilliant vocals, and a clear talent for comedy. He is obviously very good at a quick change, switching from his regal Prince costume to a gerbil costume as he also played Cinderella’s best friend, Mr G.

Emmanuel Akwafo was the pantomime dame, Lady Jelly-Bottom, entering with a performance of “Bootylicious”, to thunderous cheers. Akwafo is scene stealing, not just for the size of his costumes but for his brilliant comedic delivery. And in fact, for providing one of my favourite moments of the night with a rendition of Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time.” Not only is Jelly-Bottom the pantomime Dame, but also the main antagonist of the piece. Whilst Akwafo performs both sides to his character well, I do think the show could have benefitted from a more villainous character. It was hard to boo someone who was singing girlband hits and twerking. There was a little menace lacking from the show, which would have made for a more exciting show.

While the show featured many pop hits, from Sam Smith to TLC, Vikki Stone also includes some original songs, including earworm “Market”, which is accompanied by some fun and energetic choreography by Arielle Smith. Another highlight was the rearrangement of “Mambo No.5” for a royal speed dating event. Similarly, direction from Tonderai Munyevu is slick throughout, ensuring quick changes, and stage magic happens without a hitch. Though this is panto, and I was hoping for a little more anarchy. There was little to no ad-libbing and any audience interaction was short and controlled.

That being said, this year’s festive offering from the Lyric Hammersmith is fun, silly and sure to delight Christmas theatregoers. A talented cast, a track list of pop hits, as well as some absolute daftness means this Cinderella is a success.

Cinderella plays at Lyric Theatre Hammersmith until 6th January 2024, tickets here-

Photos by Manuel Harlan



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