Almost exactly two years since their last production, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, New Mills Art Theatre came to life with a bang via another Alan Frayn pantomime, Cinderella. Bucking the festive trend by staging their annual pantomime in February has been especially fortuitous this year, coming days after the government rescinded most of the restrictions imposed because of the latest surge in covid. This must have helped ensure a virtually full house with the annual panto at the Art Theatre being something of institution for the New Mill community.
As with previous works, Frayn had stuck to the traditional pantomime format, both in theme and characters, with some interesting and at times, very imaginative variations. This was perhaps inevitable, given that this was a community production with the large cast having variations in age up to fifty years and the generous stage area used to full advantage with a full complement of around thirty actors and dancers.
‘Cinderella’ has to be one of the best-cast pantos in years at New Mills Theatre.
Alice Bowden had just the right persona in the title role with Seb Green providing a good balance between playing a love-struck servant and being the main link between cast and audience. Natalie Boden and Stewart Boden worked really well as the ugly sisters (could they be in some way related?) and Lisa Quinn had a certain regal aloofness as the Prince in contrast to ‘his’ jovial companion Dandini, played by Rebecca Towner-Yates. Also, Mhairi Jennings had a nice, light touch, playing Fairy G. Special credit must be paid to some very confident and competent performances by younger members of the cast, notably Alfie Hall as Leggett who alongside Isabel Fletcher Shaw, provided a virtual Laurel and Hardy style double act though out the show.
This was a bright cheerful production, relying to an extent with colourful backcloths but with enough use of staging to give the effect of full sets. The Art Theatre’s beautiful Royal boxes were used well as additional performance areas, often quite unexpectedly, and a good balance was achieved in creating various convincing scenes whilst providing enough space for sophisticated dance routines. This was just as well because the choreography was of a high standard.
As with previous pantos, the songs sung were taken from various genres and times rather than just relying on contemporary pop songs. Interestingly, the last panto at the theatre featured a Monty Python song and the Python’s ‘Liberty Bell’ theme music was used in this production of Cinderella. A highlight was the castle bedroom scene which took the usual panto ghost cliché to another level in ways which were funny, sophisticated and surprising. This was a really refreshing change to the old stalwart of the ghost scaring cast members off stage by a tap on the shoulder but to say more would be to give spoilers.
In terms of the ‘traditional elements’ of panto, everything you might expect was here from the ‘oh yes it is’ routines to an audience sing-a-long, plenty of weak puns plus a few jokes aimed more at adults. The usual characters were all present; Cinderella, Buttons, Prince Charming, Dandini and the two Ugly Sisters. However, there were some interesting twists; one of the sisters was quite unusually played by a woman and Dandini had a mini-apprentice. The costuming was excellent, although it took no small amount of suspended disbelief to imagine that Prince Charming was a man, with the actress in question wearing zip-up boots, flesh-coloured tights and a very high-cut top!
All the cast seemed to be enjoying themselves and this was reciprocated by a very enthusiastic audience. A very enjoyable evening all round.
Reviewer – John Waterhouse
on – 28.1.22