There’s a problem with Berwick Kaler and company’s new panto at York Theatre Royal, which is that it’s casually labelled (by the script itself) as ‘rubbish’ when actually it’s damn good.
Cinderella, a welcome return for the usual panto crowd of Kaler, Suzy Cooper and David Leonard (no Martin Barrass this year due to the motorcycle accident from which he’s recovering nicely), takes place on the refurbished stage of the Theatre Royal. An altogether cosier, comfier place from which to enjoy this seasonal treat, Cinderella had a tough act to follow after last year’s Dick Whittington in the impromptu setting of York’s National Railway Museum, which turned out to be a stroke of genius for the company and provided them with such zest and zeal that it positively shone.
This year, Cinderella may be jokingly billed as tat but within moments of it starting, you realise how much of kickstart to Christmas this beloved troupe are to residents both within and without York. A glittering set and costumes by Mark Walters plunge us willingly into the magical world of a story we all know very well, as poor Cinders (Cooper) is beset by an evil stepmother (Leonard) and two ugly sisters (Kaler again, with AJ Powell) thwarting her attempts to meet Prince Charming (a pleasingly traditional female role for Hermione Lynch).
The laughs come thick and regularly from the visuals alone: every costume Berwick sports, plus Leonard’s INCREDIBLE turn as the Cruella de Ville-esque Baroness Von Naff, complete with hanging furs and a bulbous humbug wig to rival Elsa Lanchester’s in Bride of Frankenstein. Leonard’s snarling performance, sometimes as two halves of two different people, easily matches his splendiferous, scene-stealing King Rat from last year. Cooper and Lynch make fetching romantic leads and the chorus this year are uniformly exceptional, helped by a wonderful set of insanely catchy songs both new and traditional by Rob Castell, who lit up this year’s production of Sherlock Holmes so memorably.
Director Damian Cruden manages the feat of presenting a slick, lean production with room to breathe for the barrage of in-jokes, corpsing and Wagon Wheels to which the audience are treated, and Kaler is clearly having the time of his life, even with the wicked pacemaker jokes at his own expense. This is his domain, his audience, his time to shine.
Cinderella is a warm-hearted, magical and smile-inducing panto that still stands as utterly unique: a surprise one-off live appearance by Martin Barrass received a standing ovation, in case the performers were in any doubt as to the love this group have earned themselves from the whole city. We’re on that journey with them, and we thank them for ushering in Christmas with such rubbish, uhh we mean glorious, style.
You can watch our behind the scenes film of the cast read-through below. Cinderella runs until Saturday 28 January 2017 and you can book your tickets HERE.