REVIEW: ‘Cinderella’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, Christmas 2023

 

You can always rely on a pantomime to magic up a happily ever after and Cinderella at Milton Keynes Theatre does so with fabulous fairy flair.

This year’s seasonal spectacular is an energetic, enchanting and entertaining romp through Cinders’ rags-to-riches tale. Thanks to the tried-and-tested panto format and the fun-filled, fairy-powered script, audience and cast members alike are guaranteed to have a ball at every performance throughout the show’s Christmas 2023 run.

Fairy 312, a failing fairy in training, will only earn her wings and graduate to fairy godmother status if she can ensure Cinderella is swept off her feet by Prince Charming. Cue a wave of a wand and a sprinkling of wonder and wit! Along the way, theatregoers of all ages get to delight in side-splitting silliness, upbeat songs, lively dancing, colourful costumes and spellbinding special effects.

 

Sarah Vaughan and James Darch as Cinderella and Prince Charming in Cinderella at Milton Keynes Theatre, Christmas 2023.

 

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REVIEW: ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, Christmas 2022

 

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Milton Keynes Theatre uses sparkling silliness and splendid star turns to entertainingly prove that justice always prevails in pantoland.

It’s that time of year again, so here is festive fun in a familiar format that eggs on giggly audience participation. For Christmas 2022’s seasonal spectacular, theatregoers are cast as the good people of the pantomime jury and called as witnesses to boo Queen Dragonella (Lesley Joseph). The judge who reflects on evidence of her wrongdoings is The Man In The Mirror (Rob Rinder).

Dragonella’s jester, Muddles (Aaron James), and gofer, Oddjob (Paul Chuckle), wind her up by using her real name (“sorry Lesley!”). And they warm us up with impish icebreakers, including shopping-tossing, joke-telling and swordplay. Elsewhere, Princess Snow White (Charlotte Haines) and Prince Harry of Haversham (Dale Mathurin) endearingly fall in love as soon as they meet. Later, one of them will fall for a Granny Smith.

Fortunately, our enduring belief in the power of good is at the core of the narrative, so the right person ends up being brought to their knees. Which reminds me: the quirky roll call of the magnificent seven reaches new heights in this production.

Truth be told, there are no bad apples here. Everyone dazzles and delights in sweet, satisfying, superlative ways. Together, they make surreal scenarios and bonkers banter seem fair enough.

 

Milton Keynes Theatre Panto 2022. Snow White, surrounded by dancers, in a winter wonderland.

 

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REVIEW: ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, Christmas 2021

 

Fee-fi-fo-fum, panto is back at Milton Keynes Theatre and the long-awaited Jack and the Beanstalk is gold-standard entertainment for everyone!

After so many restrictions and changes of direction in the real world, the only way is up (and sometimes around) in this giant pantomime spectacular. Ashley Banjo headlines in the title role and the other members of street dance troupe Diversity play his siblings. This means the dynamic moves on display throughout the show are slick, synchronised and seamlessly integrated into the story.

Pounding music and flashing lights welcome us to the Land of the Giants. Thunderous footsteps reverberate around the auditorium as we are introduced to the villain, Fleshcreep, who does Giant Blunderbore’s bidding. Most of the action then orbits around the Village of Roundybout, home to Jack Trot and his girlfriend, Princess Jill. Later, a foolish exchange involving the Trot family’s cow, Daisy, motivates our panto stars to climb up an enormous beanstalk to Cloudland. Here, daring and defiant, they take on an angry giant.

 

Jack and the Beanstalk at Milton Keynes Theatre, Christmas 2021. Ashley Banjo as Jack Trot and Diversity as Jack's siblings.

 

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REVIEW: ‘Aladdin’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, Christmas 2019

 

There is barely time to draw breath when watching Aladdin at Milton Keynes Theatre. This year’s pantomime leaves you gasping for air between the laughs and gasping in awe at the spectacular flying carpet.

Spare a thought, then, for motormouth comedian Joe Pasquale, whose role as Wishee Washee must leave him puffed out and parched by the interval. Talking a mile a minute, he bounds about the stage with a twinkle in his eye while getting up to mischief with props, his cast mates and audience members. His energetic sense of fun is truly infectious, and he has the entire auditorium creased up.

As a co-director and contributing writer, Joe seems to have had carte blanche to do his own thing in Aladdin and he does it extremely well. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t be Aladdin without the earnest, impoverished lad who falls for an exotic princess; is conned by the evil Abanazar; wanders into the Cave of Wonders and releases the Genie from a magic lamp.

Lee Mead (best known for winning the BBC talent show Any Dream Will Do and playing Ben “Lofty” Chiltern in the BBC’s Casualty and Holby City) is a class act as Aladdin. He has natural charm and a powerful voice. He pulls off the puns and enthusiastically throws himself into slapstick scenes with Joe. He really is everything you could wish for from a panto hero.

 

Aladdin at Milton Keynes Theatre, Christmas 2019. Joe Pasquale as Wishee Washee and Lee Mead as Aladdin.

 

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REVIEW: English National Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ – London Coliseum, Christmas 2018

 

Christmas at the London Coliseum means the return of English National Ballet’s Nutcracker, a festive favourite that is guaranteed to lift your spirits.

Nutcracker has been at the heart of English National Ballet’s repertoire since the company was established in 1950. The current production, the company’s tenth, dates from 2010. Devised by the artistic director at the time, Wayne Eagling, with designs by Peter Farmer, this interpretation largely follows the traditional scenario but has a few unique flights of fancy mixed in too.

On Christmas Eve, young Clara and her brother Freddie enjoy a party with family and friends. Clara receives a Nutcracker doll as a present but, after a skirmish with jealous Freddie, the doll gets broken and has to be repaired by the mysterious Drosselmeyer. The party ends, the children are sent to bed and Clara has an action-packed dream in which her Nutcracker is attacked by an evil Mouse King. Departures from the traditional narrative in Eagling’s offering include the enchanting addition of a hot air balloon to whisk Clara and her Nutcracker away; horrifying giant mice invading scenes that are conventionally rodent-free; and a Puppet Theatre replacing the customary Kingdom of Sweets in Act Two.

English National Ballet’s talented dancers capture all the requisite wonder and magic of the Christmas staple. Having demonstrated in recent years that they are as adept in contemporary choreography from the likes of Akram Khan as they are in the classics, they assuredly keep this familiar ballet feeling fresh.

 

English National Ballet's Nutcracker hot air balloon

 

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