Cinderella and the Beanstalk*** (Theatre 503)

Posted: December 6, 2014 in Theatre

Cinderella and the BeanstalkThis review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

If you fancy a couple of pantos this Christmas, but are a bit short of time or cash, here is the answer – the theatrical equivalent of buy one get one free. Presented by three young men known collectively as Sleeping Trees, this is a mishmash of two traditional children’s stories served up with a Grimm cocktail of assorted characters from several more. James Dunnell-Smith, Joshua George Smith and John Woodburn arrive in dinner jackets to introduce the show that they have written, only to discover that no-one has remembered to hire any actors. Undeterred, they change into brightly-coloured long johns and perform the show themselves, taking on multiple roles, male and female. What follows is a pantomime of many dames and rapid costume changes. Bearded James is uncomfortable in the role of Cinders, who has only one sister because Josh does not consider himself ugly enough to play the other one, whilst John panics when several of his characters are on stage at the same time. Mark Newnham, composer of the show’s songs, sits in a back corner playing accompanying music and occasionally joins in the mayhem. A single set of pale blue, with fluffy white clouds provides the backdrop and several crates litter the stage; they contain costumes and a beanstalk which, rather sadly, grows horizontally. This is probably due to cost constraints, but, thankfully, this is a pantomime for which the budget does not run to soap stars either. A quick enactment of the entire film Home Alone at the start of the second half is near brilliant. Otherwise, knowing jokes aimed at adults and sure to go over children’s heads are notably absent and there is absolutely no smut. The script may be short on wit, but the compensation is a a tidal wave of simple, unforced jollity which deluges the audience and even Scrooge would have difficulty sitting through it without a broad smile on his face. Children (recommended age 8+) should revel in all the clowning, but maybe the younger ones would find a straightforward telling of a single story more enchanting and a scene in which “Mr” Cow gives birth could cause them quite a bit of confusion. Pantomime is often said to be the starting point from which children go on to develop a lifelong love of theatre, having been told magical stories, gazing in awe at the glitter and spectacle. Here we have the opposite of all that – a muddled plot, tiny cast, makeshift props and costumes. So welcome to the world of fringe theatre, kids, you’re going to enjoy the ride.

Performance date: 5 December 2014

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