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London Theatre Reviews

HAPPY PANTOLAND

By Matt Wolf

This is a Cinderella for a metrosexual age, where children are wise beyond their years. Did anyone say civil partnership ceremony?

Pantos don't get more blithe -no, let's make that gay - than the Old Vic's determinedly outre Cinderella, which bears the imprimatur, and then some, of its begetter, Stephen Fry. It's not just because the multiple couplings at the end include Paul Keating's tight-trousered Buttons hitched to Oliver Chopping's smitten Dandini that unsuspecting parents may find themselves on the way home having to explain things like civil partnership ceremonies to the wee ones, who in turn may be wondering what has happened to the airborne toilet rolls and water pistol assaults common at less highbrow panto addresses. Audiences of whatever persuasion will enjoy a shower scene that finds Joseph Millson's hunky Prince Charming taking it all off,though purists wanting a pantomime dame and a more innocent brand of brio will have to look elsewhere: this is Cinderella for a metrosexual age where children are wise beyond their years, as evidenced by a young lad, 11-year-old Zack, who was plucked from the audience only to announce to the matinee crowd that he wanted to be an author. What pre-pubescent these days uses the word author?

The answer:one who doubtless hails from the Fry school of discourse, where words like inanition are made a feature of a panto and proper grammar is reinforced via a pointed discussion of the correctness of whomsoever the shoe fits - this sort of insistence on accuracy a nice rebuttal in our age of C u l8r and the numerous comparable aberrations fuelled by texting. The ugly stepsisters are here called Dolce (Mark Lockyer in eyebrow-curling lime-green) and Gabbana (Hal Fowler sporting over-the-top pink), while Sandi Toksvig's deliciously droll Narrator guides us through a contemporary dissection of the British class system as evidenced by our chosen supermarket: a Tesco joke alone is worth the somewhat padded feel of Fiona Laird's hit-and-miss production. Proceedings gain in fizz following the intermission, by which point we've at least made the acquaintance of Pauline Collins's decidedly game, wispy-haired Fairy Godmother, who has a real knack for popping out of one corner of the kitchen or another. Sprinkling coriander on Madeleine Worrall's husky-voiced Cinders, this agent of good isn't above deriding our heroine as pliant (and) insipid, though every time the vocabulary threatens to get too lofty, Fry gets back to basics via Cinderella's reference, for instance, to urgent, insistent cock. (That said, I am still pondering the mention made by Toksvig to the sesame seed buns of contingency, whatever that means.)

The Old Vic deserves credit for rethinking the panto from the ground up, as it did several years ago with its popular Aladdin, whose erstwhile star, Ian McKellen, is here acknowledged with talk of " the fellowship of the Widow Twankey." Composer Anne Dudley's score could be a bit less formulaic, the opening number, Pantoland, an excuse for director Laird to populate Stephen Brimson-Lewis's busy set as if primed for a revival of Into the Woods. (Marigold, this production's doe-eyed cow, could play Milky White.) The designs, in turn, are among the show's undisputable glories, both glistening and witty, whether we're below stairs with Cinderella and Buttons or in the sequinned company of a royal entourage that includes Penny Layden's hilariously inebriated Queen. Those wondering whether the kids will have enough to do may be relieved to hear that we are asked at one point to stir an<