Review by Rosie Holmes
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas… and also panto season! New Wimbledon Theatre’s pantomime is a Christmas tradition myself and my mum never miss, and this year it’s the turn of Cinderella to entertain theatregoers and so I was keen to see if this year’s offering would make for a right royal ball.
It’s a tale as old as time, as Cinderella is put to work by her evil stepmother and ugly stepsisters, and yearns to go to Prince Charming’s ball. Her fairy godmother appears and grants her wishes along with a pumpkin carriage, and beautiful gown. At the ball, Cinderella and the Prince fall in love, but Cinderella flees at midnight as the magic wears off, only leaving behind her glass slipper. But, let's be honest, its probably not the plot you go to a pantomime for, is it? The plot is really just a background for a number of skits and opportunities for audience participation, both of which are largely successful.
Perhaps the hardest working member of the company is Pete Firman, returning to the Wimbledon panto after a starring role in 2019. Firman is Buttons, Cinderella’s best friend, and acts as a sort of compere for the night. As a magician by trade, Firman performs a number of tricks that produced gasps from the children in the audience, and certainly a lot of laughter from the adults. Firman also has the tricky task of talking to the children who are invited up on stage, all of which he handles with humour and care, in what can be a rather unpredictable part of the show, much to the audience’s delight.
Adorning the show's posters is Craig Revel Horwood, starring as Baroness Demonica Hardup, both the villain and the pantomime dame of the show. Fans of Strictly will be delighted as the audience are treated to all the Strictly catchphrases, a dance-off, ugly sisters named Claudia and Tess and a dance led by Horwood himself. I was also surprised to hear that Horwood can actually sing, leading a version of Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop me Now’ changing the lyrics to ‘I’m the hottest chick in history’. Horwood has starred in many pantomimes, and it shows. He gives the audience exactly what they want in fab-u-lousness, and is wonderful in his comic timing.
The rest of the cast are strong, with Solomon Davy as the dashing Prince Charming, and Cassie Compton with glorious vocals as Cinderella, wonderfully in tune, even when being launched off a garden wall. Daniel Norford is the dapper Dandini, joining Prince Charming in the dance number, ‘Dance the Night’, which I am sure will be a popular tune across pantos this festive season. Alison Jiear is the wonderfully tuneful Fairy Godmother, with Leanne Jones and Catherine Norris as Claudia and Tess,, full of energy throughout and wonderfully comic.
Cinderella is produced by Crossroads Pantomimes, the world’s biggest panto producer, producing 24 pantomimes nationally each year. If you have seen a Crossroads Pantomime before, you will know they follow a certain formula. There is a certain song that appears every year in the Wimbledon pantomime, much to the delight of the audience. I suppose this could lead to some repetitiveness and certainly, this year, for the first 10 minutes or so, I did worry this would be the case as the show moved a little slowly. However, contemporary updates and new songs meant this wasn’t the case. Crossroads have a formula that works, and it delights children and adults (surely, the ultimate aim of a pantomime). There were enough jokes about Prince Charming’s balls to keep the adults chuckling and plenty of slapstick to entertain the children.
One thing that Crossroads always get right is the high production value and set. There are countless set changes, each one wowing the children in the audience. The highlight for myself and many others was the closing of the first act, with the appearance of a huge flying carriage, led by lifelike flying horses. For many children, pantomime is their first theatre experience, and the awe on their faces at the flying carriage filled my heart with the joy as they saw the possibilities of the magic of theatre, hopefully setting alight a love for theatre.
There were a few slow movements in this year’s pantomime at New Wimbledon Theatre, but the high production quality and hard-working, talented cast means this show is definitely deserving of a Christmastime visit. Crossroads really know how to put on a pantomime and show no sign of slowing down with this dazzling production, thankfully, for Craig Revel Horwood there was no sign of disaaaaster in the show.
Cinderella plays at New Wimbledon Theatre until Sunday 7thJanuary 2024, tickets are available here - https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/cinderella/new-wimbledon-theatre/calendar/