THERE’S a standing joke in our family that I ought to be awarded a Damehood, for services to pantomime. That’s because, for as long as I can remember (or at least since I last wrote a pantomime myself) I have been traipsing round the region reviewing professional pantos before Christmas, and amateur ones after.
My record was 34 in one season … so, without bragging, I really am something of an expert. And I can’t remember a better Cinderella than the one now on at Strode Theatre in Street.
It’s the fifth year that Glastonbury and Street Musical Comedy Society has presented the panto at the theatre, and each year has seen the standard rise. When the company decided on the world’s favourite story, Cinderella, the ambitious committee agreed unanimously that real live ponies were a prerequisite. Fortunately, theatre manager Liz Leyshon is not only adaptable but also a pony expert. So instead of reasons why livestock could not be imported, ramps and stabling pens appeared and enchantment reigned.
This new version of the familiar story has been written by Matthew Maisey, who also plays one of the very funny knockabout comics Shrapnel and Nugget with the excellent Justin Hodge.
It all starts, (as of course it should) with the Fairy Godmother, played by Elspeth Salmon, doing her rhyming couplet thing. Mr Maisey has devised some wonderfully witty words for the occasion, setting the scene for a terrific show.
Mostly (and forgive me for saying this) the local dancing school is brought in to give the little dancers a chance to show off in public, and bring in their cousins and their sisters and their aunts to swell the audience. In this production the members of the South West School of Dance get their own well deserved ovations. The inclusion of a Riverdance step dance sequence is a masterstroke, specially when led by a dancer as good as Hannah Switzer. Choreographer Anna Gifford does a great job with all the dancers, from the little forest fairies to the senior troupe.
Of course things can go wrong, but when you have a cast that includes the vastly experienced Barry Squance and Cherry Lewis (as the charming Baron Hardup and his grasping wife) a bit of impromptu business and a few lines to the audience can iron out all eventualities.
Glynn Webster is a loveable Buttons, with Steve McCullagh (making his damely debut) joining the much prettier Dave Bonser as the ghastly ugly sisters.
The delightful Lauren Cooper has come up through the ranks and charms the entire audience as well as her prince in the title role, and her scenes with the Charming James Newton have real poignancy, as well as being beautifully sung.
Bethany Reece’s Dandini has plenty of swash, and the audience song (Dandini, Buttons and a couple of young dancers) is something that everyone can join in without embarrassment.
Directed by Rodney Gifford with the excellent band directed again by MD Tom Billing, this is a show for all ages, and it’s on until 3rd January. GP-W