There’s a lot of pressure on a panto. From cooking the perfect Christmas Day turkey to sourcing the most beautiful tree for the corner of the living room, nothing sends us into a festive frenzy quite like the fear of our much-loved traditions not living up to our expectations. For families that count a visit to the pantomime as a central part of their Christmas celebrations, there’s a lot riding on that trip to the theatre to be just right.
This year, for York Theatre Royal, the pressure is arguably even greater. Their production of Cinderella marks the start of a new era of pantomime for them: after a year of taking their travelling pantomime around York, they’re back in the main house with a new cast and a new collaboration with Evolution Productions. They even have a TV star, CBeebies’ Andy Day, in one of the lead roles – a real break from tradition. As a committed (20+ year) fan of York Theatre Royal’s pantomime, I was worried that these changes might mean that it wouldn’t tick the boxes and that my Christmas would be – not to be too melodramatic about it – RUINED.
What a relief, then, to go along to press night and discover that this year’s show is a triumph and that Christmas 2021 is saved (hoorah!). Funny, heartwarming, absurd and full of warmth and laughter, it’s a joy from start to finish. It’s the classic rags-to-riches tale updated for a modern audience, with music, dance, ventriloquism and a few surprises that made the hairs on the back of our necks stand to attention. No spoilers here, but there are a couple of scenes that are truly magical and that we’ll still be talking about long after we’ve taken the tree down and the supermarkets have snuck the Easter eggs back onto the shelves.
Cinderella has such a strong cast that it seems unfair to shine a spotlight on anyone in particular, but Max Fulham’s ventriloquism is excellent, and Paul Hawkyard and Robin Simpson are brilliant as baddies Mardy and Manky, hurling insults and teasing the audience in the time-honoured tradition of the dame. Andy Day sparkles as Dandini (younger children will adore seeing their CBeebies favourite in real life), while Faye Campbell’s Cinderella and Benjamin Lafayette’s Prince Charming are, well, utterly charming.
This is a show that will appeal to all ages. Our children (7, 9 and almost 12) are lucky enough to be going to see it with their schools and I know they’ll love it because there’s something in it that will appeal to each of them. It’s truly family-friendly: Cinderella’s candy cane sweetness is offset by the ugly sisters’ pine-tree prickliness, but without ever veering into territory that would have you covering your children’s ears (believe me, we’ve been to a few like that and it’s awkward!). Add in spectacular costumes, loads of funny one-liners, wonderful live music and plenty of audience participation, and it feels like a real Christmas treat. By the curtain call, the whole crowd were up on their feet and dancing like it was 2019, and it felt amazing. Go and see it – you’ll have a ball.