by Laura Kressly
Croydon’s Fairfield Halls re-opened to much fanfare this year, and their traditional pantomime – with all the glitz, glamour and gags that you’d expect – is ramped up with Disney-quality animations, LED screens and special effects. Though all the problematic elements of panto are still there – like heteronormativity, misogyny, and narrow gender roles – this production showcase the capabilities of tech within what is now a conservative form.
The star cast consists of Ore Oduba, Tim Vine and Cat Sandion, though only Vine has a leading role as Buttons. Oduba is sidelined as the prince’s valet, and Sandion, the Fairy Godmother, is only in a few scenes. Vine has a lot of stage time and occasionally phones it in with unsuitably dry delivery. Of the leads, Oduba and Sandion are the only people of colour, and cast in smaller roles whose purpose is to serve others. They would have made an excellent Prince and Cinderella. This does not negate Grace Chapman’s an excellent job as the kind, patient and much abused Cinderella, and James Bisp as a Prince Charming who could easily slot into a real royal family, but the casting choice suspiciously looks like an example of unconscious bias. The age gap between Vine and Chapman is also alarming, particularly as Buttons – who is in love with Cinderella – looks old enough to be her father.
Jason Marc-Williams and Alistair Barron are delightfully grotesque and stupid as ugly sisters Tess and Claudia, along with their conniving mother, Katie Cameron as Baronness Hardup. Cameron is from America and retains her native accent. Though it’s so easy to tar Americans as villains these days, it is also refreshing to see a genuine American on stage in a role that isn’t specifically written as such.
All of the usual jokes are included, which stretches what would otherwise be a brief story into two and a half hours. It really doesn’t need to be this long, and it’s dragged out even more by Vine’s post-show shoutouts and puzzling banter with a few children selected from the audience. The kids didn’t seem to get much out being used by Vine for cheap jokes, and it was particularly distasteful of him to try to shame a four-year-old girl for not wanting to be excluded. However, when another child revealed she was there with her granddad who was reviewing the show, Vine rolled with it in good cheer.
This certainly isn’t a progressive panto, but the design is spectacular. Bright and detailed animations make set changes quick and clear, and allow for a level of detail that otherwise would easily be missed on the large, concert hall stage. Flickering fires, water fountains, falling leaves, and fairy dust are made magical and bright, like something out of a family film. It’s easy to get swept away to this far away land, despite the troubling, antiquated tropes and unnecessarily-long running time.
Cinderella runs through 5 January in London.
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