Adapted by Chris Cavanagh
December 15th - 30th, 2001
The Tower Theatre Company performing at the Tower Theatre, Canonbury
The Ugly Sisters
Baron Hardup : John Morton
The Broker's Men
Chorus : Nicola O'Connell, Michelle Ross, Jessica Sutcliffe, Rebecca Howard, Samantha Gallop
Directors : Terry Mathews and Deborah McGhee
In-house review by David Patrickson
David has been a ghost of Christmases past at the Tower for eighteen years.
With tummy full of turkey and pudding, torn and crumpled wrapping paper all over the house, and snowflakes drifting past flickering street lamps, thoughts turn, inevitably, to New Year revels and a week-long hangover.
But first, a pantomime! No festive season is complete without a boo and a hiss. Good will to all men? I don't think so. And on to the Tower Theatre and Cinderella, this year's trip to pantoland. In the absence of a witch or a demon king there's nothing quite like a wicked stepmother to set the boo-juices flowing. But wait. What's this? No wicked stepmother? So where's the baddie? The ugly sisters? No, I'm sorry, they are just vain and silly. Not boo material at all. The broker's men? Sorry once again, they're just thick and silly.
So back go the raspberries into the boo-box for another year. This was a P C panto. Nothing to induce hysterics in the teenies or trauma in the under-fives. Curses. I have to say though, by and large, it worked well enough. You know the story so I won't spend any time on the plot. Plot? No, it was all about performances, and there were some good ones here. In the absence of her arch-nemesis, it was hard to feel sorry for Cinders. Nothing seemed to be compelling her to dress in tatters and do lots of jobs around the house. One can only conclude that she enjoyed it. Anyway, Haidee Cameron wore the rags, swept the floor, picked up sticks and sang her songs quite delightfully. She looked great as a skivvy and just as happy in her wedding finery. No doubt she will make an excellent princess, although hubby may have problems prising the broom away from her.
Her father, Baron Hardup, owner of Hardup Hall and deeply, deeply in debt, was given an air of a vague eccentricity by John Morton. Without an evil wife to look after his affairs, they had gone to pot. He either hadn't noticed, or didn't mind, that his youngest appeared to do all the work whilst his two other, less well-favoured, daughters shopped for haute couture. Always one step ahead of the broker's men, money was his main concern. One assumes that at the end, with royalty in the family he was well content.
Whilst on the subject of royalty, Prince Charming was a bit of a catch. Emma Rogers had majesty with a common touch. And legs right off the top shelf at the principal boy megastore. That's more like it! Both being on the petite side, Charming and Cinders made a lovely couple and that's very important. The Prince obviously got on very well with his valet, Dandini, played by Kate Pozzi, another performance of stature, as it were, as they went in for some early role swapping. Boys just wanna have fun.
The only loser in the whole piece was Buttons. Unrequited love is tragic even in pantoland, but Dominic Ward's heart didn't appear to be too broken as he led the audience and about twenty thousand children on stage in a rousing Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer Katzenellen Bogen By The Sea. His Buttons was most energetic and his rapport with the audience, instant. Any pathos had a twinkle in keeping with the general upbeat feel of things.
Oddly, there were no great set pieces. Although Cinderella's coach twinkled with fairy lights, any transformation took place out of sight. The magic conjured up by Barbara Mathews' trainee Fairy Godmother was effective rather than spectacular.
The ball itself was generally pretty thinly populated due to the small chorus. Although the scale of the chorus, Nicola O'Connell, Michelle Ross, Jessica Sutcliffe, Rebecca Howard and Samantha Gallop, meant that they had more to do than appear as mere loafing villagers. Their choreographed moves added extra fluidity to several of the scenes. As a spectacle, however, it was rather like watching your football team play out a goal-less draw against a team one place higher in the league.
And so to comedy. John Cornwell and Peter Miller were very funny as the broker's men. Both blessed with pop eyes and rubber faces, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, their every entrance brought a smile. They cropped up all over the place, but the set piece which saw them tricking Buttons out of his hard earned cash was golden. But better still were the sisters.
These were pantomime gems. As Marge and Flora, Peter Novis and Nigel Martin hauled the spirit of panto around with them for the whole performance. Were they ugly? Oh yes, horrible. Were they beastly? Too true, especially to each other. Were they funny? Hilarious. Overstuffed and brightly coloured, like an explosion in a blancmange factory. Terry Mathews and Deborah McGhee, as joint directors, marshalled their teams most efficiently. The pace never flagged and there were no dead moments. The set, designed by Jude Chalk, Keith Syrett and Steven Hyndman was a model of panto efficiency. Scenes were changed smoothly and quickly, and with none of the banging and thumping that so often goes with the territory. The set was augmented by the costume design of Kay Perversi. The whole was simply but effectively lit by Laurence Tuerk. Visually, it all worked well, with a consistent style throughout. The band, Peta Barker and Martin South, led by Jonathan Norris, recorded, but there in spirit thanks to the sound design of Stephen Ley, banged through the old favourites in grand style.
So, a pleasant way to spend an evening in the warm company of familiar faces. Which I suppose is what Christmas is meant to be about. But next time can we have a baddie?