We dusted off our passport to enter the Royal Essex Kingdom of Hornchurch for Cinderella – it must be by Royal Appointment because it’s at The Queen’s Theatre!
This year’s panto, penned by Andrew Pollard, nicely channels an Essex vibe into the well-loved tale. Baron’s daughter Ella (Natasha Lewis), left an orphan, is mistreated by her stepmother (Georgina Field) and her two butch designer-brand lovin’ stepsisters Kylie (Carl Patrick) and Miley (Simon Pontin).
We saw this production in perfect panto laboratory conditions – alongside an audience of kids from several local schools brought by their teachers for their annual lesson in all things panto! They lovedit and so they should …
This is unashamed “real” glitterball panto. sparkly, cheesy and cheeky with an integrated tale but also a well-judged range of tones to suit punters of all ages.
The jokes come thick and fast and hit and miss – while the kids relaxed, sang along, listened, watched, cheered and booed, lapping it up in the spacious auditorium for over two and half hours.
OK, it’s not perfect. Not all the jokes hit their targets, but this aims to be cornily entertaining and the next deluge of jokes received appreciative gales of laughter.
The placement of the small orchestra alap bang in the middle of the stage limited the stage space and choreography. That old bugbear, sound levels, meant that some of the singing was drowned out by the orchestra. But, you know what?, it didn’t matter.
The kids sang along enthusiastically to a range of current hits and ended up learning the lyrics and belting out the bossa nova standard Quando Quando Quando!
One barometer – the mobile phones were out at the beginning of the performance but during and afterwards – not a mobile phone in sight. Really, truly! Cross my heart and hope to die! The power of live performance won through and the busloads of kids were just too busy talking and cheering!
But down to the nitty gritty! A cute ditzy fairy godmother in the shape of Etisyai Philip determines to change the fate of our gutsy ragdoll heroine, Ella whose Essex Dad has passed away.
Poor Ella’s been left her in the hands of ultra wicked stepmother cum Eastenders villainess, Babs gone to the Baaaad, Baroness Hardup and two ugly shopoholic stepsisters with only lovelorn but wisecracking Buttons (Alex Tomkins), the self-appointed Justin Bieber of Essex, to care for her welfare.
That’s until Prince Charming of Chelmsford (Jamie Noar) makes an appearance, aided by recent immigrant to Hornchurch Dandini (Jonathan Charles), Italian but with more than a touch of Fawlty Towers’ Manuel about him his charmingly slapstick performance.
All this and an additional unique selling point, enough to warm the cockles of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s heart as he seeks to bring more music and musical instruments into the classroom.
The fairy godmother’s wand magically transforms into a flute, Cinderella blows a big trombone, Baroness Hardup plays a mean (and we mean mean!) saxophone, Dandini is a dab hand at the fiddle and Prince Charming charms with his guitar strumming skills before twisting again (as he did last summer). .
This, along with some great voices, notably the wicked Baroness and Cinderella, carried on Hornchurch’s musical tradition. Was it a fix, we wondered, that one of the teachers in the audience wooed from the stage turned out to be Mrs Robinson? (It’s a little-known fact that Hornchurch provided the inspiration for some of Paul Simon’s most famous songs!).
It all ended Happily Ever After with even a place for Buttons in the Charming couple’s new household in Romford. All super-enjoyable festive fare spreading lots of Hornchurch happiness and we blow our horn for this Cinderella with a sparkly green light!