Cinderella and the Beanstalk at Theatre503
© Claudia Marinaro
Three rowdy 'producers' burst onto a tranquil fairy-tale set from designer Daisy Blower and all at once this pantomime feels unconventional. Revisiting Theatre503 by popular demand, Sleeping Trees’ festive family show is revamped with an all-female cast that kicks ass!
After several deliberate false starts the trio declares they’ve lost their cast and decide to play all 40 roles themselves. The reluctant ‘actors’ bumble along, dipping in and out of their intriguing meta-story, while the actual panto unravels with all the cheeky innuendo, audience participation and uplifting songs you’d expect.
However, Cinderella (Louise Beresford) wears thick-soled silver lace-ups and a T-shirt branded ‘Pretty Power’. She connects with socially awkward bookworm Prince Charming (Amanda Shodeko) over a misread shared interest in DIY. Their budding romance is intercepted by villain of dubious ethnicity Rumpelstiltskin, played adoringly by Anna Spearpoint, who coerces Cinders into retrieving the golden eggs. Meanwhile a Geordie fairy godmother, in dungarees and DM boots, regales us with tales of lost love Jack, who climbed the beanstalk 85 years ago and never returned. There are no dames, no Dobbins, just a Dyson in this updated twisted tale full of sharp-witted observational humour from the multi-award-winning writers.
Highlights of the show include recent graduate Shodeko’s astonishing physical movement: her gyrating hips and facial contortions are positively Gollum-esque, and her metamorphosis from one sadistic ugly sister to the other is hilarious while pushing the boundaries of good taste. The fourth actor Sev (Severine Howell-Meri) is a bewildered musician who strums along merrily in the background, sporadically interjecting with her angelic singing voice. Marvellously understated direction from Carla Kingham allows Howell-Meri to be the quiet cog that keeps the watch ticking – a talent to watch for the future.
Indeed, all four actors impress with their versatility, stamina and genius comic timing and the energy only wavers briefly towards the end of the first half. From Brummie dwarves to an Essex genie, so many characters pop by you occasionally lose sight of the plot. Even The Matrix and Finding Nemo creep into scenes. Overall your enjoyment is not hampered though perhaps we could have been spared the full throes of the magic cow’s labour!
There are hints of old-fashioned panto problems, such as endings favouring male princes and bearded wizards but, here, it’s all highly satirical and in no way sincere. Spectacularly, towards the end the party atmosphere ramps up, the tunes are infectious and there’s plenty of fabulous glitzy glamour. With genuine belly laughs throughout plus a few surprises along the way, it’s a weirdly wonderful uber-festive mash-up that manages to feel familiar despite its subverted structure.
Cocoa’s verdict: Glorious family entertainment for the festive season! Could be a bit of a stretch for very young children.
Cinderella and the Beanstalk is at Theatre503 from 5 December–5 January 2018
Running time: 2hrs (including interval)