Theatre in Wales

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One Big Joyful Christmas Cracker

Frank Vickery at the Muni

Cinderella- RCT Theatres , Muni Arts Centre Pontypridd , December 16, 2011
Frank Vickery at the Muni by Cinderella- RCT Theatres [To read more on Frank Vickery see "In Memory", 45 in "Top 50 Reviews" column}

Director Richard Tunley leads his production for RCT Theatres into moments of theatrical ecstasy. The new-style “Twelve Days of Christmas” involves rubber chickens, a string of Barbies, and some weird underwear. Toilet rolls spill off the stage for the drummer to throw back. The tempo of the band quickens, forcing the five singers to belt around the stage at speed. There is the odd apparent error. In fact, the whole scene is one of considerable crafted artistry, which earns a colossal din of approval from the Muni’s packed house.

To call Frank Vickery’s Candarel and Simon Nehan’s Demerara ugly is a misnomer. They are plain gruesome, with lines like “Better be lush/ Or we’ll smash your face to mush.” Their sheer, delicious frightfulness is not just the result of a pair of seasoned performers but the bizarre, even surreal costumes they have been given. The Wardrobe Master is Nicholas Grimes. The costumes’ creators, from Coleg Morgannwg, are Hafina Harris, Donna Adams and Georgie Phillips.

Cinders and Prince Charming do not offer a lot of scope for deep characterisation. Even when wearing a metal colander and a necklace of carrots, Lauren Morgan looks great. Her theme song is “True Love’s Kiss” from “Enchanted”. The song has now replaced “Someday My Prince Will Come” as a panto standard, all to the good as it is a far more beguiling melody. The scene in which Cinderella sings to the woodland creatures- amongst them a hedgehog who moves beautifully- has a quality of enchantment to it.

Gwydion Rhys’ stage presence combines a mix that is uncommon. He has both charm and diffidence, but is able to whip up a storm with his singing of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now.” Dudley Rogers is a stage veteran. His Baron Hardup does a soft shoe shuffle then startlingly he does the splits. Impressive.

Alex Winters is a sparky Buttons who makes instantaneous rapport with the audience. RCT’s promotion for the show leans towards the cast’s television credentials. There is a strand of pantomime now in England where the budget escalates, sales are dependent on a single star, and then the star has to be given disproportionate stage time. This script for “Cinderella” does not do that. It avoids a string of solo gags and shares the action out between all the main characters. It is truly a company at work.

Gillian Elisa as the Fairy Godmother gets to sing the best tune, a variation on John Kander’s “When You’re Good to Mama”. She tests out the audience right from the start. Forgetting Cinderella’s name- “is it Send-a-Fella?”- she is put right by a chorus of young voices. There are fifteen rows, twenty seats apiece, between me and the stage. The seats are filled with pupils from Tylorstown and Ffynnon Taf and they create a wonderful, thunderous noise. When Cinders is locked out of sight a hundred fingers point to the cellar door. When the Uglies appear they earn a mighty booing and a myriad thumbs turned down.

The script makes a few local references. Local public transport gets a kicking. The “Air-hair-lair” joke is ascribed to Cardiffians, about as unlikely as any. But the script mainly gets on with it. The whole story is wrapped up in a hundred and ten minutes including interval.

There is a very good physical joke, early on, in which the water pistols, which wet the viewers, steadily increase in size. Frank Vickery nips offstage and returns to point a menacing fire hose at us. Alex Harries’ Dandini has a joke about reading a girl like a book. It is funny, but goes entirely over the heads of the audience. Two jokes would be better deleted. The old “ring on your finger”/ “ring on your nose” one depends on the association that only a bull has a ring in its nose. Now that every high street has its share of human beings with the same, the joke has lost its point. “One Yank and it’s off” fails because the colloquial “Yank” for American has fallen out of use.

This is RCT’s first pantomime. It is to be celebrated, not just what is but for what it represents. The programme credits the contribution of two hundred and thirteen individuals and acknowledges support from one hundred and twenty-two organisations, the vast majority small local businesses.

“Cinderella” continues at the Muni until 27th December and moves to Park and Dare 29th-31st.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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