Review: Cinderella at the Floral Pavilion ***1/2
Is there anything more evocative of (and peculiarly distinctive about) a British Christmas than a theatre full of children screaming ‘oh no you’re not’ at a pair of men in Marie Antoinette wigs and outrageous outfits?
Hard-working Ugly Sisters double act Jamie Morris (Melody) and Tarot Joseph (Harmony) certainly get their fair share of boos during the course of this cheerful version of ‘the greatest fairytale of them all’ at the Floral Pavilion.
The New Brighton theatre has created the hall of a ‘castle’ in the foyer where youngsters - many dressed up as Cinders, even more with flashing wands and windmills - can have their photos taken.
Inside the auditorium, there’s a colourful set, booming songs, a rhyming Fairy Godmother (an assured Katrina Bryan), glass slippers, water pistols, and a good-triumphing-over-evil denouement to leave all but the most Scrooge-like feeling all warm and fuzzy.
Bethan Jacks makes for a winsome and appealing titular heroine, and showcases a sweet voice and good vocal range, while Steps’ Lee Latchford-Evans is happily willing to send himself up as the dim-but-well-meaning Prince Charming who repeats ‘5,6,7,8’ to himself when he’s nervous.
Christmas shows to enjoy across Liverpool City Region this season
Meanwhile Sean Jones returns, hot foot from his final Blood Brothers tour, to deliver a mixture of painful looking pratfalls (an early plunge into the pit among them) and wistful yearning as Cinders’ faithful friend Buttons.
Jones has an empathetic, childlike quality to him, honed from years of playing Mickey in Willy Russell’s musical, and a real sense of joy which radiates when he’s on stage.
Saying that, even he struggles to generate much response during an overly-long and strangely flat first half which is too often punctuated by audible restless fidgeting from small members of the audience.
It’s still early in the run and an easy fix to tighten up proceedings. There’s an entire ‘love lottery’ sequence that could be snipped without troubling the plot, while perhaps the script could lose a few of its many, many genitals-related references and the already dated Liz Truss gag.
Above: Jamie Morris and Tarot Joseph as the Ugly Sisters. Top: Bethan Jacks and Lee Latchford-Evans as Cinderella and the Prince.
Saying that, the cast throw themselves into proceedings with gusto and the kitchen-wench-to-princess transformation scene which comes just ahead of the interval is enchantingly done for little theatregoers, featuring a spectacular silver ballgown and a proper carriage drawn by two real white miniature ponies.
The action (and reaction) steps up a gear after the break with a turbo charged performance of Sweet’s brilliant Ballroom Blitz by Mark Paterson’s royal sidekick Dandini, and Latchford-Evans delivering a cheeky Tragedy – complete with Steps’ armography - as his mystery date flees the ballroom at the stroke of midnight.
There’s also a short and sweet Ghosties and Ghoulies sequence in the forest, featuring Jones, Morris, Joseph, Gwynfryn West’s genial Baron Hardup and a whole lot of screaming from the stalls, and while the list of shout outs is met with a tepid response there’s plenty of genuine enjoyment in the four young volunteers who give Jones a run for his money when it comes to the traditional audience participation.
It all comes to a sparkly conclusion with a happily ever after to send audiences out into the cold New Brighton air feeling suitably and festively uplifted.