Roger Hall’s Cinderella – the pantomime

Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

11/11/2005 - 17/12/2005

Production Details

Written by Roger Hall
Lyrics by Paul Jenden
Music by Michael Nicholas Williams
Directed by Susan Wilson

Roger Hall has written a brand-new version with topical references and local humour, but retaining the traditional elements of music, lots of comedy, a great story and, above all, those favourite pantomime dames, the Ugly Sisters.

A show that children, parents and grandparents will enjoy.

Ellie Smith
Nikki MacDonnell
Sean Allen
Timothy Bartlett
Robert Tripe
Richard Chapman
Sarah Somerville

Musician: Michael Williams

Costume design by Paul Jenden, who also staged the musical sequences

Theatre , Music , Pantomime ,

Cinders glows but lacks sizzle

Review by John Smythe 31st Mar 2006

I grew up with pantomimes, at them and in them, back in the good old David Tinkham days when Wellington Repertory packed the Opera House for two weeks around late November. With vast casts including a chorus and junior and senior ballet corps, theatrical magic on what seemed like a grand scale, and pop songs of the day with lyrics cheekily tweaked and supported by a live pit orchestra, not to mention a large backstage crew, they offered many young Wellingtonians their first experience of theatre.

Roger Hall picked up the panto genre for professional theatres in the late 1970s, then they went out of favour. Now he has re-committed to writing shows the whole extended family can share, within the constraints of relatively intimate theatre.

This Circa production of Roger Hall’s renovated Cinderella, directed by Susan Wilson, is performed by a cast of nine with a plush red curtain set and wacky costume designs by Paul Jenden, who also staged the musical sequences and wrote the lyrics to musical director and solo musician Michael Nicholas Williams’ delightful compositions.

The Fairy Godmother (Ellie Smith) narrates the show with post-modern theatrical flair. A Royal Family is in residence at Government House while Cinderella (Nikki MacDonnell), her widower step-father (Sean Allen) and her ugly step-sisters Obetia (Timothy Bartlett) and Di-aphanie (Robert Tripe) live, we are told, in a state house.

The trouble is no proper attention is paid, in script or production, to dramatising their financial or moral destitution, with a put-upon Cinders at the bottom of the heap. The sisters are fun but not nearly nasty enough. There’s no-one to boo. And playing their state house scenes against the posh red curtains doesn’t help.

Cinders’ refusal to be a victim or support her ex-diplomat father’s weak-willed defeatism is well conceived, but that and her republican ideals would work much better against stronger downward pressure. Because she never reaches true despair in the face of gross injustice, what should be a heart-warming upswing to resolution falls well short of its dramatic potential.

James (Richard Chapman), the reluctant Prince returning from his OE, is given real dimension while his dodgy drama school-trained manservant Dan Dini (Sarah Somerville in classic panto drag) plays the joker-who-would-be-prince to the hilt.

The transformation scene from pumpkin to coach is deftly done but the greatest magic comes from the moments of sincere romantic connection between the Prince, masquerading as a waiter, and Cinders.

Smith and Allan double splendidly as the Queen and King, with the latter unaccountably played as an Aussie surfie type with big 70s hair. As the Fairy Godmother’s assistants Fimble and Fumble, Paul Jenden and Louis Solino keep the show cracking along.

It’s good fun over all but in parts this Cinders just glows where it could sizzle and flare.

My younger companions enjoyed the audience participation. But they also know and love the Roal Dahl version. Hall makes it fun for adults by subverting the fairytale stereotypes and injecting topical political humour. If he was as playful for kids raised on a rich diet of contemporary children’s literature, the show would be even better.


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Homegrown pantomime a great treat

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 31st Mar 2006

DESPITE being defined by comedian and pantomime performer Tommy Trinder as the smell of wee-wee and oranges, pantomime is making a comeback in Britain with celebrated actors such as Sir Ian McKellan donning a skirt and playing Widow Twankey.

Pantomime, that strange Christmas entertainment designed for young and old, is the only theatrical tradition entirely developed in Britain. After more than 200 years of popularity, it fell into decline not only in Britain but also in outposts such as New Zealand during the last decades of the 20th century.

However, it is making a comeback here, too, if Susan Wilson’s fast-paced, lively and thoroughly enjoyable production of Roger Hall’s Cinderella is anything to go by. It’s quite the best, if small-scale, panto seen in Wellington since the glory days of Wellington Repertory’s pantos with David Tinkham as a fruity dame.

All the traditional elements of a panto are here: cross-dressing, a transformation scene, set comic routines, audience participation, running gags, songs and dances, and a sing-a-long.

The beauty of it is that one never feels that one is being beaten over the head and told that one is having a good time. There was no need because the opening night audience, well sprinkled with youngsters, entered enthusiastically into the spirit of the show and occasionally put the actors on their mettle for a quick ad-lib in reply.

The lovely Cinders (Nikki MacDonnell), a lower-decile person, lives with her father (Sean Allen, who has to be reminded that he also plays the king) and her stepsisters, dumpy Obetia (Timothy Bartlett) and towering Di-aphanie (Robert Tripe), who drink coffee at Blumsky’s Bar, do their shopping in malls, and wear Judy Bailey’s castoffs.

After a bumpy flight, the handsome Prince James (Richard Chapman) arrives home in Wellington after his OE accompanied by his pushy aide-de-camp Dan Dini (Sarah Somerville). He doesn’t really want to be a prince (he’s a covert republican), just married to the woman of his choice.

And running the proceedings is the Fairy Godmother, whose magic is so splendiferous that OSH insists she wears goggles. Whenever she appears in disguise, the audience has to call out that it is really the Fairy Godmother, which is not a hard task because she turns up as the Queen and the wedding celebrant, Marryin Haste, both of whom are exactly the same size as the cockney sparrow Ellie Smith, who injects not only huge energy but also deliciously silly comedy into the show, and some masterly byplay with the audience.

She is ably assisted by Fimble (Paul Jenden) and Fumble (Louis Solino), who ride horses, cook revolting food, control rats and paint portraits. Jenden also designed the setting, the costumes and the dance routines.

Pantos are just for children. Oh, yes they are! Oh, no they’re not! And good, clean, family fun is had by all. Oh, no it isn’t! Oh, yes it is!


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Cinderella awes audience

Review by Lynn Freeman 31st Mar 2006

Cinderella The Pantomime is perfect Xmas fare – (oh no it isn’t, oh yes it is!). It’s full of magic and music and ugly sisters ready to stab poor old Cinders in the back (look out behind you!). The main elements of Cinderella’s story are here, though she’s less of a slave and more of an independent young woman scraping up money for her OE and an escape from her ghastly stepsisters and vacuous father, and the low-decile state house they share.

She first meets the handsome prince not at the ball but at Blunsky’s cafe where he’s experiencing ‘real’ life working as a waiter. Their hands meet over a travel brochure and -ooh – they fall in love. There is of course a fairy godmother, a pumpkin coach, the most amazing frocks, a glittering slipper, romance, slapstick humour and a happy ending. The littlies in the opening night audience joined the olds in yelling out on cue and clapping and singing  and, especially laughing out loud.

Pantos are about fun. There are heaps of dazzling costumes – Paul Jendon has outdone himself with frills, colours, materials, styles and daring cuts; great tunes – Paul Jendon again with the lyrics set to catchy music by Michael Nicholas Williams. And of course the script, and this is classic Roger Hall, a lifelong lover of the pantomime tradition, here having gentle fun at the expense of student loans, the NCEA, Kim Hill, Suzanne Paul, and even the Rugby World Cup win for New Zealand.

Ellie Smith is made to be the fairy godmother and absolutely holds the show together, working the audience like the seasoned performer she is. The two Dames, Robert Tripe and Timothy Bartlett, are brilliant too, modelling outfits that defy physiology and good taste. Sarah Somerville is an absolute knockout as the dashing Dan Dini, and Sean Allen is in fine form as the dithering father and the Ocker King. As the lovers, Nikki MacDonnell and Richard Chapman, are delightful. Go, laugh, spot the mice and sing the Pantomime Whirl. You know you want to.


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