United Kingdom Critic
The festive theatre season here in the UK is well underway, with plenty of new and classic theatre experiences getting audiences in the mood for the holidays and imparting important messages. This season, I’m fortunate enough to be taking in many different performances; in this review, we’re heading to Panto land. Without further ado, fasten your seatbelts and have your ‘He’s behind you!’ bellows at the ready as we head to the Leeds City Varieties Music Hall for their production of ‘Cinderella: the Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto’ for some Christmas fun.
I’m sure you all know the story of Cinderella, and everything’s the same here, aside from the fact that in this version, our titular rags-to-riches-until-midnight Cinders (Grace Lancaster) is from Leeds, along with her father the Baron (Dyfrig Morris) and his trusty servant Buttons (Kenny Davies). But when the Baron falls in love with the unscrupulous Rubella de Zees (Katia Sartini), Cinders finds herself swept up in what she thinks is an unlikely romance herself and chaos ensues.
As far as pantomimes go, ‘Cinderella: the Rock n’ Roll Panto’ is great fun and ticks all of the right boxes for its target audience. Yet, there’s something rather unique about this production that sets it apart from its peers: all of its cast are versatile actor-musicians that swiftly switch between actor and musician roles, with several also bringing them into their character portrayals to extend their performative reaches. As each performer switches between these duties, we feel a sense of unity and relentless energy, both of which lend themselves well to the storytelling dialogue of the piece and allow Matt Aston’s directorial vision to shine. Musical Director Greg Palmer’s arrangements of the show’s score of classic early rock n’ roll songs also shines throughout the production, as he allows the musicality of each piece to complement the dynamic musicality of the ensemble.
Housing the action is Judith Croft’s smartly designed set, which makes sensible and clever use of the intimate performance space and the storytelling opportunities presented by such a compact theatre. Spectators are able to feel part of the action wherever they sit, and the band of actor-musicians are neatly arranged in a small section under the balcony upstage left. This ultimately allows the storytelling dialogue to soar and flourish, as opposed to having the outdated tradition of having the band stuffed into the pit underneath the stage.
In such an intimate space, having the actor-musicians onstage the whole time really echoes the theatre’s Victorian music hall roots, allowing the performers and other aspects of the piece, including the scenographic aspects, to strike a chord with the audience and form a strong relationship with it. Tom Blackband’s sound design blends cinematic, cartoonish pieces of stock music and foley to uphold the hereditary pantomimic aspects of the piece while also giving it a smart, streamlined aural landscape that pulls its audience into the play-world. The same can be said of Jason Salvin’s lighting design, which underpins the atmosphere with plenty of emotive qualities that keep the audience engaged and, when combined with the rest of the scenographic elements, allows them to absorb the play’s underlying messages, which primarily revolve around holding loved ones close and being proud of who you are.
Even if you’re not the biggest pantomime fan, ‘Cinderella: the Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto’ is well worth a watch this season. Most of all, it’s certainly refreshing to see a pantomime embracing the fresh, flexible storytelling opportunities that come from drawing upon the versatility of actor-musicians. It’s warm, engaging and plenty of fun for the whole family.
‘Cinderella: the Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto’ is at the Leeds City Varieties Theatre until January. For more information, tickets and a full cast and creative list, visit here.