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Oxford Playhouse - Cinderella

3rd December 2010 to 16th January 2011.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Cinders and the big society ball

Cinderella, at the Oxford Playhouse, until January 16

Peter Duncan's Oxford Playhouse reworking of the Cinderella story is an excellent barometer of the current social and economic climate. Cinderella lives in debt-laden Baron Hardup's crumbling mansion. The Fairy Godmother (Amy Griffiths) and servant lad Buttons (Joseph Elliott) epitomise the Big Society because it is only because of their charitable goodwill that Cinderella (Natalie Tulloch) can go to the ball.

Celebrity culture is all the rage. The two Ugly Sisters, Lady P (Justin Brett) and Lady G (Miles Western) are made up brilliantly as Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. Mocking and acid-tongued, the Sisters dominate the show, not least for their comic baiting of audience members.

The slapstick and slosh scene is a clever homage to silent screen comedy as the Baron (Roy Weskin) and Buttons (Joseph Elliott) create anarchy decorating the mansion's bathroom. The forest scenes are delightful with children singing a sort of Bulgarian chant alongside the Fairy, disguised as a shaman. The kids also play the forest animals, carrying clever white cardboard cut-outs, beautifully lit by Ashley Bale.

My co-reviewer Grace writes: "At first I was a bit confused because the start of the panto was not like the story that I know. It didn't matter that it wasn't the story I knew because Cinderella and her fairy godmother were in it. I didn't know why Cinderella's dress was so raggedy when her servant Buttons was quite posh. If you could have a servant you could have a nicer dress. Her ball dress and wedding dress were the prettiest.

I really enjoyed the Brownie bit because it was so funny when they didn't know what to do. It was also funny when the fairy godmother got the 'over the shoulder' bit right and the rest threw their mops at her.

I was amazed when the ponies came on the stage to take Cinderella to the ball - you wouldn't really expect to find real creatures in a theatre. They were very cute.

I enjoyed all the songs and the bits that I could join in with, shouting, cheering, clapping and booing. My side won the singing competition."


Review from The Times.

The kids get the fun, the grown-ups get the jokes

Three stars
Lady Gaga has done a big favour to this year's pantomime dames, to whose tailoring philosophy she clearly owes so much. In this panto by Peter Duncan, once of Blue Peter, one of the Ugly Sisters' loony outfits is actually labelled Gaga, and a fair few of her songs get morphed into the score. You gotta keep down with the kids these days, even the smallest ones, so here we have a bit of pop as well as jokes about everything from the coalition (Prince Charming has a Lib Dem rosette) to Harry Hill, Scouts and sat-nav.

But the fun counts most, and you know you've got a wholehearted children's show when the invisible stage crew go to the trouble of dancing the songsheet up and down in time to the final chorus. You could forgive them if they didn't, especially after coping with two live ponies (admirably phlegmatic in the face of disco music and flapping glittery crinolines).

And you know you're in Oxford when not only does Stephen Hawking crop up in a joke, but the musical director— Darren Reeves, playing keyboards — sneaks in two passages of Brahms, some ragtime, the Scouts' Ging Gang Goolie, It's the Rich wot Gets the Pleasure from the music hall, and a haunting, if bafflingly unexplained, Bulgarian folk song in the woods.

It's a benign Cinderella, this: storybook sets, no ghosts, a kindly rhyming fairy and no villain beyond the Ugly Sisters (Miles Western and Justin Brett). Their sporty playground teasing of Cinderella will be all too recognisable to older schoolchildren. No star names, but some really elegant white paper animals and birds that become magic behind the gauze. The slapstick sound effects are particularly sharp: take a bow again, O ye weary stage crew, because these things matter.

And Joseph Elliott, from the Four Screws Loose comedy act, gets it right as Buttons. The Fairy Godmother has a fine brisk underarm action with the sweetie-throwing, and there are just enough stand-up gags to amuse us adults crawling exhaustedly through Christmas.

As one Ugly Sister said to the other: "I've got the skin of a 16-year-old."

"Well, you'd better give it back, you're stretching it."



There are reviews in Oxford Prospect ("a bright, cheery and thoroughly traditional pantomime"), The Public Reviews ("a traditional tale with lots of humour for the adults and magical story telling for the kids. Silliness, sparkle and more than a little glitter – this one ticks all the boxes for a great Christmas! Enjoy!"), The Stage ("a classic pantomime with just the right amount of gestural, political satire for the parents and teachers... and an abundance of sweets, foam pies and sing-alongs for the kids") and the Oxford Times ("non-stop laughter, for more than two hours, in a panto that simply out-Disneys Disney... This really is the Playhouse’s best ever show (and that’s including all the plays they’ve put on during the rest of the year)... I must have watched, in all, at least 20 pantos... but without any doubt, this IS the best I’ve ever seen").