Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

'When The Slipper Fits Perfectly'

At the Torch

Torch Theatre- Cinderella , Torch Theatre Milford Haven , December 19, 2008
At the Torch by Torch Theatre- Cinderella Ugly Sister Eugiene: "Do you like this frock, it's American?"
Ugly Sister Hygiene: "Yeah, one yank and it's off!"
Eugiene: "You should jump into something more flowing darhhling."
Hygiene: "Oh yeah, like what?"
Eugiene: "The (river) Cleddau."

Yes, yes, yes, we all know the story of Cinderella can be traced as far back as the tale of the Greco-Egyptian girl Rhodopis in the 1st century. And yes, we all know the Chinese, the Koreans, the French, Uncle Tom Cobley and God knows who else have piped up with their own versions through the millennia. And, OK, yep, we know modern pantomime originated in renaissance Italy. But don't bang on about it. I mean, "yeah, but, no, but, yeah but. Shut up."

Because when you hear the Ugly Sisters throw out great, big, cheesy one-liners like that you know the panto season has at last arrived. In its quintessentially British form.

And, in this time of credit crunch and terrorism, when the soap opera that masquerades as news nightly dulls our senses with a weary cavalcade of nutters, nazis, murderers and celebrity wannabes, thank Jesus, Mary and Joseph for that.

For when a pantomime is as wonderful as this, the Torch Theatre's production of Cinderella, it surely deserves to take its rightful place alongside the appearance of the 'Curly Wurly', the fall of the Berlin Wall, the invention of the wheel, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the discovery of fire and, of course, let us not forget, the ladies' underwear section of the Gratton catalogue. Great moments all in the history of our world.

Taken back to a time when men were women, women were men and princesses lovely, it is soon apparent that every component for a perfect panto is in place. But, more importantly, the essential yet indefinable chemistry, as elusive as a bar of soap in a nun's communal bath, is somehow right. The result is pure alchemy.

Musical director James William's masterful touch is soon apparent, as he sashays effortlessly between musical styles, from Button's wonderfully simple and tender love song to Cinders a-la-George Fornby, one of the many gems in the show and a real tearjerker, to the bold and brassy Shirley Bassey-tastic number ''Rumba' performed by the Ugly Sisters with some natty choreography and slapstick, to the final booming, and delectably silly sing-along 'Milford Haven (Is The Place to Be)'.

It's a touch that also perfectly complements director Peter Doran's script. And what a rollicking script it is. Doran has marched straight up to the traditional story with a pump-action, sawn-off, 12 bore and peppered it mercilessly with clever references to the likes of Little Britain and Catherine Tate. There's even a nod, a wink and a doffed cap to Benny Hill, Strictly Come Dancing and the Carry On team.

And as if that's not enough there's the introduction of white trash Vicky Pollard -"The prince is a bit of a drip but I'd let that servant of his snog me for a packet of cheese and onion crisps"- played brilliantly by Delyth Eirwyn.

Vicky Pollard. In Cinderella. My God! Now what a stroke of genius that is. Yet one, of course, totally in keeping with the all the best traditions of pantomime.

While Eirwyn, the pink and mincing Fairy Godmother, shows off her range both as Pollard and a lovely, world weary, valleys taxi driver, Leighton Kyle as Prince Charming and Angela Fitzgerald as Dandini are pitch perfect with their clipped, middle England tones and straight-laced, moral fibre. And if Dave Ainsworth plays Baron Hardup like a young Bruce Forsyth, Oliver Wood as Buttons is superb, as nimble and earnest as a latter-day Norman Wisdom.

But it is Elin Llwyd as Cinderella, and Liam Tobin and Ed Harrison as the Ugly Sisters who, of course, steal the show.

Anyone lucky enough to have seen the gorgeous Llwyd, she of the ethereal voice and Pobwl Y Cwm fame, in the Torch's 'Hired Man' musical would agree that her face quivers with joy when she sings and glows with the mysterious light of an angel from a Giotto fresco.

When she speaks with her natural, girl-next-door, Welsh accent, well, you can actually hear the sound of grown men falling in love.

Prince Charming himself, swoons then faints at the first sight of Cinders and you can almost hear those same grown men muttering, "Know where you're coming from there boyo."

It may be a bit of a stretch but Llwyd's unmistakable Welsh accent is very significant here.

Pantomime, good pantomime, is many things but it is also a time machine. By giving us the chance, here and now, to leave our particular mark on an ancient story it is perhaps one of the best ways of sensing and seizing our fleeting moment, of feeling our own personal link both to the dim and distant and the unwritten future, stepping into the circle of life knowing that when we're pushing up the daisies others will be interpreting Cinderella in their own way all over again.

Llwyd's Welshness enhances this aspect of pantomime linking us directly, if subliminally, to our own largely forgotten Celtic mythology, to our version of the story where Cinderella is Critheanach.

Back on stage, while the adults in the audience are being allowed to relive the follies of their youth, Tobin and Harrison's Ugly Sisters are giving 300 screaming kids their own nightmarish glimpse of the short term future, a sneak preview of adult life.

And as far as these two herberts are concerned, you may well live to be a hundred but you will never, never, ever, ever again see two better Ugly Sisters.

They are, quite simply, blumin' fantastic.

Rough as a badger's arse, soft boiled but loaded with mischief, madly coiffured like seaside candifloss, and lurking menacingly behind a bucket load of make up they naturally steal all the best lines and shake the whole show by the scruff of its neck.

They are perfectly matched like Dame Judy and a Victorian bonnet, or some leading politician and a local massage parlour, they could be Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson, or Kenneth Williams and Sid James, or Will Hay and Graham Moffatt with just a dash of Joan Collins and Barbara Cartland thrown in for good measure.

You can imagine Kenneth Williams intoning, "They don't scare me one bit ... ooh, I dunno though", before turning tail to flee.

And you can imagine shoehorning them into a phone box with that wots-his-face in charge of Zimbabwe, Tobin roaring "How very dare you?" and the current crisis ending in 5 minutes flat.

Their timing both in their physical humour, as well as the verbal, is machine-tooled precision, their slapstick sassy and sharp.

They deliver Doran's cheeky one-liners with all the relish and gusto that permeates the performance of the whole cast-"This is the face that launched a thousand ships"/"No, the face that ate a thousand chips."-and by the end, the Ugly Sisters and their wickedness had become strangely and disturbingly attractive.

Harrison's 'Am I bothered?' sketch with Tobin and Woods is one of the many highlights in a show bursting with charm, wit, and magic, a magic enhanced by a sumptuous set, singing gargoyles and some logic-defying stage tricks.

In a poor pantomime the 'fun' is as empty and desolating as any Benidorm '18 to 30s Club' 'getting to know each other' activity.

When, as here, it' s top-notch, it has more to offer in terms of spiritual guidance and understanding the meaning of life than the I Ching, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Bible and the Koran put together.

You can easily imagine this Cinderella curing all known diseases before tea time. You can easily imagine plonking this show in front of a United Nations committee, or any of the world's vilest despots and common decency, general warmth, understanding and happiness spreading faster than malicious gossip at a women's institute cheese and wine evening.

Stardust, stardust everywhere.

Reviewed by: Tim Barrett

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