Dec 20 2023 | By More

★★★★☆    Heartwarming

Church Hill Theatre: Fri 15 – Sat 23 Dec 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Edinburgh People’s Theatre have been doing pantomimes for so many years that they would be forgiven for coasting, However, Cinderella at the Church Hill – despite some awkwardness in the script – is effervescent, joyful, and appealing to all ages.

Of all pantomimes, Cinderella has a well-established and apparently foolproof plot. However, like most off-the-shelf pantomime scripts, this one (by Paul Reakes) has to have the large number of speaking roles required by a grassroots company as well as providing its own take on the story.

Claire Morand, Derek Ward, Mandy Black and Gemma Dutton in EPT’s Cinderella. Pic Graham Bell

This version, perhaps unwisely, shunts the familiar events into the background. Prince Charming has been abroad, and the death of his father has led to the evil Duke of Verruca taking over.

The returning Prince, thanks to a bang on the head courtesy of the Duke’s minions, loses his memory and takes the place of Buttons in the Baron’s household. Meanwhile the real Buttons, as a witness to what has taken place, is thrown in jail while the Duke forces his nephew Archie to pose as the Prince.

While this is all great fun, it slightly diminishes the usual story. Poor Buttons is sidelined for three-quarters of it, with Archie as the replacement ‘daft laddie’. Cinderella, meanwhile, has little reason to go to the ball in the first place, since the real Prince is already in the same kitchen as her.

energy and spectacle

The added material also helps to make the whole thing too long. A family pantomime starting at 7.00 pm should surely be finished well before ten o’clock.

This length is certainly a drawback, but there is more than enough energy and spectacle to keep things speeding along.

Mandy Black, Gemma Dutton, Claire Morand, Kevin Edie and Lynsey Spence in EPT’s Cinderella. Pic: Graham Bell

Director Derek Ward has an enviable sense of pace and a firm handle of both humour and spectacle. There is a great variety (in both mood and era) in the musical numbers, which tend to stick to the welcome formula of ‘one verse, one chorus, then finish’. Mandy Black’s choreography is both attractive and effective, making good use of a sprightly ensemble.

Black also forms one-half of an excellent double act with Gemma Dutton as Cinderella’s step-sisters Mattie and Hattie. They are gloriously expansive and stay just the right side of cruel, while their cheekiness has a peculiar believability to it. Their first entrance, like much of the production, makes good use of the auditorium and they strike up an immediate rapport with the audience, as much because of their spitefulness as despite it.

Ward himself plays the Duke with relish, turning in a pleasingly grotesque characterisation that deserves the enthusiastic booing it receives.

glaikit charm

James Sutherland and Poppy Moore, as the Duke’s reluctant servants Nip and Tuck, have considerable stage presence and a command of the comedy. They, much like Al Brown’s Archie, come across as immensely likeable even when they are up to thoroughly dubious things, which has a lot to do with the connection all three make with the audience.

As mentioned, Buttons disappears from much of the action, but Kevin Edie has a suitably glaikit charm. He later acquires a sidekick in Kelly Edie’s Kathy, a performance that – much like David Roach’s jailer Urk – is good enough to stop you wondering how the writer thinks they can get away with introducing new characters deep into the second half of a panto.

Poppy Moore, Derek Ward, James Sutherland, Joanna Meiklejohn and Kevin Edie in EPT’s Cinderella. Pic: Graham Bell

Lynsey Spence’s Cinderella, despite becoming a bit-part in her own story, is that ideal combination of good-hearted without appearing drippy. Joanna Meiklejohn’s Prince Charming is a thoroughly decent sort, and it is so heartening to have a traditional Principal Boy, especially in a Dameless panto such as this.

Claire Morand’s haughty Baroness and Gordon Braidwood’s Baron, full of well-timed wounded asides, are an effective pairing.

Morag Black’s Old Beggar Woman (it is no spoiler at all to say she has a more magical alter-ego) has a definite gravitas; her transformation, like everything else about the staging, is handled with flair.

topical and local references

Jessica Howie’s Messenger also deserves a mention, coupled as it is with impressive featured dancing.

There are some well-chosen topical and local references peppered throughout; this helps, as some of the jokes and attitudes in the original script are showing their age somewhat. The balance of jokes aimed at adults and children is also more or less ideal.

While it may seem odd to have two performers credited as ‘the band’, it is entirely appropriate when MD Barrie Simcock and Duncan Clark are often doing the work of ten. Their indefatigability and tunefulness – not to mention the rare ability to declare a singing contest result that isn’t a draw – should be saluted.

proper old-fashioned pantomime

The sound (from Peter Horsfall and Olaf Van Dijke) and lighting (Rob Fuller and Mandy Black) are spot on, and – together with the colourful sets and costumes – make this a very attractive proposition.

The whole thing is done with such obvious and genuine love for the form that any problem with the plot can easily be forgotten. Despite its length, this never even threatens to become boring. The audience interaction is pitched just right, and there is a great deal of joy radiating from the stage. Rather than rewriting the genre, or wishing it was a piece of musical theatre, this is a proper old-fashioned pantomime, and all the better for it.

Running time: Two hours and 50 minutes (including one interval).
Church Hill Theatre, Morningside Rd, EH10 4DR
Friday 15 – Saturday 23 December 2023
Evenings: 15, 19, 20, 21, 22: 7.00pm.
Matinees: 16, 17, 23: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

The cast of EPT’s Cinderella. Pic: Graham Bell


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