First published in The Times, Monday December 4 2017
There are a couple of golden rules that must be observed when it comes to staging a winning Christmas show. The first is never to forget the importance of a good story, simply yet effectively told in theatrical form, and in Stuart Paterson’s enduring adaptation of Cinderella, Dominic Hill, the director, and his team at the Citizens are working from a copper-bottomed classic.
Of equal importance is the performers’ ability to involve their audience, of whatever age. In this regard, too, Hill and his ensemble are right on the money. The cast, led by Peter Collins’s loveable cook, Sergeant Puff, takes to the stage long before the lights go down, leading the packed house in carols and Christmas songs.
Pic: Tim Morozzo
All of which means that, by the time the story gets underway, we are nicely limbered up for a show that involves more than its fair share of audience-performer interaction. We boo and hiss Irene Allan’s wonderfully unrepentant stepmother and her malicious, punkish daughters, Claudette (Caroline Deyga) and Claudine (Hannah Howie). We cheer on Sinéad Sharkey’s go-getting Cinderella when she infiltrates the palace ball and catches the eye of the foppish prince (Nicholas Ralph), all the while hoping that she will favour the attentions of kitchen boy, Callum, played by Jatinder Singh Randhawa.
If the ten-strong cast brings enormous energy and commitment without compromising on narrative clarity, the other elements of Hill’s rich production are just as strong and compelling. Gabriella Slade’s designs are stunning, the angular shapes and sombre colour palette of the set contrasting beautifully with the shimmer and sparkle of the costumes. The lighting design, by Lizzie Powell, combines with Nikola Kodjabashia’s live soundtrack of bowed and plucked strings, whispered words and ethereal sung refrains, to also contribute mightily to the creation of atmosphere.
Pic: Tim Morozzo
If the setting offers an otherworldly vision of a fairy-tale palace, the characterisation feels closer to home. Allan is brilliant as the monstrous mum, eliciting our antipathy and not a little pity by the end. Deyga and Howie scowl and squeal venomously as the stepsisters. Collins is very funny and moving as the humourless Puff while Malcolm Shields makes for a delightfully no-nonsense king. If all of this sounds a touch too polite, never fear: there is plenty of rude humour in Hill’s production, including the sergeant losing his trousers and the villains tucking into a cake onto which a dog has peed.