THE Merlin Theatre Productions Christmas show this year is a community presentation of a new version of Cinderella, written and directed by Claudia Pepler with new music by Joseph Church.
Making full use of the wide, deep stage, with a 45-strong cast, this is a fresh reading of the original story that inspired the world’s favourite pantomime. The Brothers Grimm included Ashputtel in their famous collection, and it’s much darker than the usual romantic confection.
There are some brilliant ideas in this production, which also brings back the popular pigeons first seen at the Merlin in Hansel and Gretel. Returning Prince Ben is an ordinary guy who is more interested in saving rainforests than ruling a kingdom. Ella is grieving for her mother. The spirit of the forest is awakened by tears and the guests at the ball are more interested in the free bar than in the royal family.
Victoria May is a spectacularly nasty stepmother, with Tabitha Cox and Abi Holmes (also the choreographer) are her ghastly daughters Beatrice and Charlotte.
Pete White (Jake) and Dillon Berry (Will) reprise their Columbidaen antics, bringing terrific dancing and movement to the proceedings as Will tries to stop Jake from stealing and eating all the vital bits of the story.
Ben Jenkins is a charming prince missing all the usual preening bombast, encouraged by his doting parents Matthew Baker (moonlighting from Milborne Port Opera) and Tina Duffin. Claire Johnson is the tree-spirit-cum-fairy-godmother, and Dave Merritt the weaselly (sorry weasels!) property developer.
You’d go a long long way to find a more delightful Cinderella than Amy Maughan, and her duet with her prince is one of the show’s highlights. Another is the Ball of the Year sequence.
The audience sometimes struggled with the new music, and some even clapped Elvis, whose Christmas collection played during the interval!
The whole thing is brightly choreographed, packed with ingenuity and charm and a credit to the whole company.
Its on until 14th December at various times and dates. GP-W