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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Old Vic Theatre      Winter 2007-2008

The Old Vic's 2007 panto is more arch and witty than most, which is little surprise, given that it was written by Stephen Fry.

True connoisseurs might miss some of the tackiness inherent in the genre since, despite running gags about the low Old Vic budget, this production directed by Fiona Laird and designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis is thoroughly polished and as elaborate and colourful as you could wish.

(Pause to explain for the non-British: The Christmas Pantomime is not a mime show, but a musical comedy built loosely on a fairy tale or Arabian Nights plot, with interpolated pop songs, guest stars usually from TV soaps - and a whole collection of traditions and rituals that are part of the fun. At least one male role is played by an actress and one comic female role by a man. There's lots of audience interaction - 'Behind you! Behind you!' and the like - and a mix of slapstick for the kiddies and over-their-heads wordplay for the adults.)

While fully satisfying the kids, Fry's Cinderella seems particularly aimed at adults, with a mix of in-jokes (about the National Theatre or Ian McKellen, who starred in the last Old Vic panto), low ribaldry (someone pronounces Your Highness as Your Anus) and ancient groaners ('I love nature' - 'After what she did to you?')

Both Sandi Toksvig's narrator and Pauline Collins' Fairy Godmother display a degree of cynicism about their roles, Penny Layden's tipsy Queen insists on pointing out that the glass slipper is actually clear plastic, and we discover that what we always suspected about Buttons and Dandini is true.

Toksvig is an engaging narrator, especially since she doesn't take things too seriously, and I'm prepared to believe that at least some of her ad libs aren't scripted.

Mark Lockyer and Hal Fowler are suitably over-the-top as the stepsisters, though their pie-in-the-face scene seemed a bit desultory, and Paul Keating is a nicely boyish on-the-verge-of-coming-out Buttons.

Pauline Collins pops in (and flies out) for a brief appearance as the Fairy Godmother exasperated with Cindy for being so slow on the uptake.

The central romantic roles are traditionally the most colourless, and Madeleine Worrall sings prettily but offers little more, though Joseph Millson gives the Prince an unexpected intelligence and sense of irony.

One break with tradition is a wholly original score (music by Anne Dudley, lyrics by Stephen Fry) in place of the magpie collection of pop songs. The songs are more than adequate, especially a Gilbertian patter song for the Prince, and serve some bright and bouncy dance numbers choreographed by Francesca Jaynes.

The not-taking-things-too-seriously air is reinforced when the plot ends only to have the author seemingly realise that he's left out some essential elements, and hurriedly shoehorn in the panto cow and the singalong.

This is one of the rare holiday shows at which you won't feel like a paedophile if you don't have a child with you. At least half the audience is made up of unaccompanied adults, enjoying themselves as much as the kiddies.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Cinderella - Old Vic Theatre 2007