Cinderella at Bath Theatre Royal

Cinderella - Jon Monie as Buttons and Dani Harmer as Cinderella - TRB - Photo credit Freia Turland - (ref141)THREE very funny men are at the centre of the pantomime at Bath this Christmas, and when they are on stage the magic is tangible.

It’s something you look for as much in the faces and voices of the children in the audience as on the stage, and there isn’t a more magical venue than Bath’s Theatre Royal, where the auditorium itself seems to add enchantment to the seasonal shows.

Increasingly, theatres are “buying in” pantomime productions from specialist companies, and those companies are trying to stay ahead of the game by throwing out what they see as outdated traditions and trying to catch a 21st century audience by engaging minor television celebs and introducing TV routines. That’s nothing new. I remember being taken to see Adam Faith at Bournemouth Pavilion when his Lonely Pup in the Christmas Shop was in the charts, and his acting was just about as good as his singing voice.

UK Productions, whose Cinderella this is, has thrown out female principal boys in favour of nice looking lads who can sing and dance a bit. Fortunately, most of the children in the audience know the Cinderella story, so it doesn’t matter that much that it’s not really told and that the “script” is light on plot and heavy on songs.

The highlights are the set-piece scenes, and you won’t see them better done than by Jon Monie, Byron Mondahl and David Ball.

Cinderella’s friend, the loveable, unlucky-in-love Buttons, is the perfect role for Jon Monie, whose elastic face and fruit-machine eyes are always a hit with the audience.

The rotund Byron is perfectly contrasted to the slimly statuesque David as two of the ugliest, and most exotically dressed, sisters you could hope to see in a month of pantomimes.

This year was always going to be a difficult one for the Theatre Royal, following the death of Chris Harris, who had starred as the dame, part written and directed the pantomime for 13 years. So it is fitting that Jon Monie, who had so often played the brother of the hero and silly son of the dame, tells the audience that his misses his “mum” … and so do we.

But while The Tinker’s spirit seeps from the wings, there’s no time for mourning as the comedy team romps through routines old and new to delight every age group in the audience.

Cinderella - B Mondahl, R Colson, D Ball, J Monie - TRB - Photo credit Freia Turland - (ref191)The diminutive Dani Harmer, best known as Tracey Beaker from CBBC, can certainly sing and dance, but the script (credited to Andrew Ryan) gives her little opportunity to develop her character. She began her stage career at the age of six and she’s a great hit with the youngsters in the audience who recognise her from the TV.

The transformation scene – the heart of the Cinderella story – is beautifully done, drawing gasps from the children.

I would like to see a more coherent script, fewer songs and clothes that look as though they were made for the prince and his valet (butler?) Dandini, rather than for some 70s power dressing soap stars.

But by the time the children arrive on the stage to sing the audience participation song, hearts are melted, we remember that we know the story, and we delight in the wardrobe of the sisters (their names are so complicated I can’t remember them, but think of all the pop divas you know, list their names and divide them up between Messrs Mondahl and Ball and you will have an actuary’s chance of getting them right!)Cinderella - Byron Mondahl and David Ball as The Ugly Sisters - TRB - Photo credit Freia Turland - (ref25)

Cinderella is on until 11th January 2015, and I’m quite sure that the terrible trio will be developing their roles and adding even more to the riotous routines as the run continues.


Photographs by Freia Turland



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