REVIEW: Cinderella – Beautifully chaotic, panto magic is well and truly back!

Cinderella at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre – Production Image

Venue: Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

Performance Date: 07 December 2021

Reviewer: Gemma Fincher

Star Rating: ★★★★

It has been a long and arduous two years without the frivolity, mischief, and shenanigans that panto season brings. Last year’s festive period was marred by the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdown, and ongoing darkness of theatres all over the country. Thankfully, the darkness has been lifted and panto magic shines bright once again, bringing with it some much-needed light relief and laughter. It’s safe to say this has been an incredibly tumultuous period for us all (except, it would seem, for the Conservative Party).

Aylesbury Waterside Theatre always pulls out the stops when it comes to panto, and this year is no different. Aylesbury’s favourite stalwarts La Voix and Andy Collins return to headline the production as the Fairy Godmother and Buttons, respectively. They are joined by the popular and cheeky Mark Rhodes (one half of Sam and Mark, guess which half) as Dandini and Nick Jr’s Gemma Naylor as Cinderella.

Martin Dodd and UK productions stay largely true to the fairy-tale story of Cinderella, with the expected deviations that you would expect from a classic pantomime. There are innuendos and double entendres aplenty, accompanied by a peppering of pumping pop tunes duly given the panto treatment. Indeed, opening the show with a mash-up of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation and You Gotta Be by Des’re is a pretty safe bet that you are in for a good time. It’s also a very clever nod to the recent Cinderella musical movie which pretty much tore up the rule book.

Unfortunately, during the middle of Act One, Gemma Naylor suffered an injury meaning she couldn’t continue. After a 15-minute show stop, which included some comical improvision from La Voix and Andy Collins, understudy Shannon Rothwell stepped up – and step up she did! It can’t be underestimated just what a challenge that must have been and Rothwell did a stunning job. Her cutesy Cinders was complimented in droves by Regan Burke as the delightful Prince Charming.

The villains of the piece come in the form of double dames Kristopher Milnes and director Chris Nelson as Gemma and Stacey Hard-Up. They do a sterling job in eliciting the required boos and hisses from a very willing and vocal audience. UK Productions have pulled out all the stops in the costume department for these two.

The ensemble is wonderfully strong, and Jessie May Simmons’ facial expressions are worth the ticket price alone. She is hilarious and an incredibly dynamic performer. Pantomime may look like a party every night, but it is an incredibly grueling schedule, and it cannot be underestimated how hard these performers work. The whole cast, but the ensemble, in particular, delivers Mitchell Harper’s choreography with panache, style, and effortless energy.

La Voix and Andy Collins make an unlikely duo but their obvious affection for each other shines through. They bounce off each other fabulously. The best moments are when the two share the stage. What Collins lacks in vocal prowess he makes up for in energy and enthusiasm, both of which are infectious. La Voix, as always, is the consummate professional, hilariously funny, stunningly dressed with vocals to die for, she truly elevates this panto to new levels.

Mark Rhodes is a delight as Dandini and wastes no time reminding us of the vocals that earned him his big break way back in 2003’s Pop Idol. He opens Act Two with a pumping and adrenaline-fuelled pantofied version of Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz.  

Aylesbury Waterside Theatre is the feather of the cap of this Buckinghamshire town, it’s a lovely venue and it’s been fabulous to see some vibrant and high-profile shows gracing its stage in 2021. Cinderella is a wonderful panto, providing all the ingredients needed for a high-octane night out. A fabulous cast, incredible choreography, toe-tapping tunes, and all the panto magic you can shake a stick at.

A beautiful evening of mishaps, mayhem, and pure joy.

Runs until: Sunday 02 January 2022

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