I HAD A BALL AND YOU WILL TOO!
It just wouldn’t be Christmas without some panto magic and Cinderella at Milton Keynes Theatre pulls out all the stops to cast its spell over audiences.
I was delighted to attend press night for the annual pantomime at the new city’s incredibly popular theatre – particularly after having interviewed leading lady Anna Williamson (Cinderella) and the multi-talented Kev Orkian (Buttons) a couple of weeks ago.
On arrival at the theatre, I was pleased to see audience members of all ages (from the very young to those in the ‘grannies and granddads’ age bracket) milling around, enthusiastically awaiting the beginning of an evening of festive sparkle. Carol singers from Arts1 School of Performance filled the steps of the theatre, helping to set the mood and providing distraction from the bitterly cold weather outside.
Meanwhile, excited youngsters queued up to bag their very own “bundle” of glowing goodies (complete with fairy wings and magic wand in the “Cinderella Bundle”, and different shaped light-up treats and magic wand in the “Buttons’ Bundle” and “Baron’s Bundle”, respectively).
Taking a seat in the auditorium, Christmas songs were playing to get everyone in the mood and the safety curtain was lifted up to reveal a stunning purple and pink themed Cinderella backdrop, showcasing lit up candelabras and swirls and flowers.
From the off, traditional good cheer fills the stage as the well-loved fairytale is brought to life in Eric Potts’ sharply written take on a classic story.
Our Cinders is the extremely likeable Anna Williamson (children’s television presenter and ChildLine ambassador). She is never far from the loyal Buttons (comedy pianist and panto aficionado, Kev Orkian) who is secretly in love with her. Buttons befriends the audience (which included lots of children but even more adults ready to let loose their inner big kid), keeping everyone informed – and thoroughly entertained.
Songbird Fairy Godmother Deniece Pearson (of Five Star fame) narrates, lighting up the side of the stage with her crystal-encrusted dress and breaking up the verse with bursts of sparkling vocals.
The curtain rises on a fast-paced song and dance number (Good Time by Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen) before the village of Milton-on-the-Moor and its various characters are introduced. As you would expect, there are plenty of references to Milton Keynes (roundabouts, concrete cows) and audience participation aplenty.
Baron Hardup (played by Tim Hudson, a prolific panto performer with numerous television credits) is flat-broke thanks to his two (ugly) step-daughters – Peaches and Pixie – but dotes on his sweet daughter, Cinderella.
The absence of a dame (in the guise of an evil step-mother) gives the ugly stepsisters even more kudos and they own the stage every time they enter (to the cheeky theme music Here Come The Girls). The less-than-attractive duo had the audience in stitches, donning outlandish costumes which seemed to get more and more ridiculous as the show went on.
Quips were quick and references to “It-girls”, Katie Price’s propensity to wed and QVC the shopping channel delivered to great comedic effect by Paul Burnham (Peaches) and John Barr (Pixie).
Still, the star of the show had to be television personality and dance legend Louie Spence (he was “in Cats” – as he repeatedly reminds his adoring audience). Louie sparkles in sequins, resplendent in his hot pink costume as Prince Charming’s assistant (wedding planner or ‘aide-de-camp’ – “just call me camp”), Dandini.
Louie’s exuberance and astonishing dance moves steal practically every scene as he leaps, twirls and pirouettes across the stage. He has perfect comic timing and is an all-round incredible entertainer. The only criticism is the loss of a few words to his speedy dialogue, hindered ever so slightly by his unique lisp, but even this is given a panto-twist as Buttons demands a towel to deal with the flying spittle.
Louie’s dance technique proves he has “still got it”. His whole body is expressive, every movement precise and quite simply fabulous and his fouetté turns (turning fast on one leg with the other whipping out to the side) would put dancers half his age to shame.
And what of Prince Charming? Our handsome prince is played by Andrew Derbyshire, no stranger to treading the boards in huge shows, from We Will Rock You to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Prince Charming is an accomplished leading man, joining Cinders for a duet (Wherever You Will Go) which showcases both performers’ voices and His Royal Highness in particular is a bit of a charmer on the dance floor.
The ensemble cast of dancers perform a varied mix of dance styles, from jazz and ballet to ballroom and some folk-inspired partner work – and Louie and co even break into a frenetic bout of Gangnam style at one point.
The junior ensemble cast revel in their roles. This writer was in their shoes at Milton Keynes Theatre back in 2000 for Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Rest assured, they will remember the experience of being on that stage in pantomime for years to come. Their performance inspired me to re-live my favourite panto moments and look at old pictures!
This rags-to-riches tale has everything you could wish for: stunning sets, an awesome cast of talented performers, plenty of ‘look behind you’ and ‘oh no it isn’t’ moments, ample innuendo to keep the adults entertained, plus real live ponies.
As if that wasn’t enough, the voice of Milton Keynes – the Milton Keynes Citizen newspaper – even appears onstage in a very special panto format!
All of this set to a soundtrack which includes songs by current chart-toppers One Direction, Olly Murs and Owl City, as well as classic hits by Elton John and The Beatles.
This review is also published on the Milton Keynes Citizen website.
And in print: MK Citizen GO! 13th December 2012.
Milton Keynes Theatre featured a quote from my review of Cinderella press night in the subsequent advert: