Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews


Qdos , New Theatre Cardiff , December 21, 2004
Not withstanding two fine children’s musical productions at the Sherman and an ‘anti-Christmas show’ at Chapter, Cardiff’s New Theatre is the place for traditional pantomime.

This year’s Cinderella is no exception, with its spectacular, magically changing scenery, sumptuous costumes, wonderful dancing and even a carriage with two real ponies.

Tradition evolves and we have a much-loved children’s TV entertainer, Dave Benson Phillips, in one of the main roles and a show biz ‘legend’ in Danny la Rue to attract the mums and dads and grandparents. However Gemma James is in true traditional mode, very pretty, dressed in pretty ‘rags’, a sprightly dancer with a fine singing voice. Popular Breakfast DJ Tony Wright and the show’s director Brian Godfrey give us two grotesquely voluptuous Uglies, and Powys and Jones provide the slapstick as Broker’s Man and Baron Hardup, Cinder’s dad. Two interchangeable young men, handsome in both looks and voice, Duncan Breeze as the Prince and Craig Ryder as Dandini, complete the team with the energetic dancers complemented by the charming young Olive Guppy Olivettes. They all work, sometimes on their own and sometimes together to produce an offering that really packs a good old ‘show biz’ punch that has the ‘littleies’ laughing and yelling and the ‘biggies’ chuckling with the satisfaction of great value for their money.

The front cloth is beautifully painted, anticipating further delights when it rises, its main feature is the dazzling slipper at its centre. A good-looking young man in silk stockings and breeches enters and announces the opening of the proceedings. This is the first break in ‘tradition’ where the villain is always the first to enter from the left-hand side of the stage, followed by the hero on the right. This device goes back to the old Mystery and Miracle plays of the Middle Ages where Hell lay to the left and Heaven to the right - sinister and dexter, these, of course were the source of all modern living dramatic forms. Today’s pantomime retains the moral story of good triumphing over evil and everything ending happily ever after.

The word pantomime goes back, even further to the Roman ‘Pantomimus’, masked mimes that were great favourites of the emperors. From this derived the ‘Commedia dell’ Arte that flourished in Italy and then spread throughout Europe from the fourteenth until the eighteenth century. Here Harlequin and Columbine represented romance and Pantaloon confirms the elements of slapstick. The ‘stick’ to day is replaced by the expertly timed percussion instrumentalist.

The complex scenery, often with magical mechanical effects came from the elaborate ‘masques’ of the Elizabethan era. Pantomime is musical theatre based on old folk tales. One of the first ‘modern’ pantomimes was staged by David Garrick at Dury Lane in ‘Jack the Giant Killer’. The first performance of the Cinderella story took place in 1804. Apart from the lack of a thigh-slapping Principal boy, this year’s Qdos production runs extremely close to form.

Musical director Michael Morwood drives things along at a cracking pace, he has to, to keep up with the great energy of Benson Phillips who is a veritable whirlwind of movement and has the most plasticine face any clown could wish for. He has us all wishing that he should marry Cinderella. Danny La Rue’s Fairy Queen, yes he does milk the gag, but not too much, is a lesson in stage presence to everyone. Though the voice may no longer reach the highest notes, his sparkling dignity and warm manner with both young and old bring a highly polished touch that permeates the whole production.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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