It’s that time of year again! (Oh no it isn’t, oh yes it is!) Where we find ourselves back at Joseph Rowntree Theatre with the Rowntree Players, for their annual dose of panto mischief…it’s not to be missed!
We all know the classic fairytale of Cinderella, the poor kitchen girl who’s destined to meet and marry the Prince… but how can this be improved? Set it in Yorkshire, with a proud Yorkshire cast and an endless amount of Yorkie references – as a local resident you can’t help but feel right at home.
Cinderella is at Joseph Rowntree Theatre from Saturday 9 to Saturday 16 December 2023.
This year’s pantomime was written by the talented Howard Ella and Gemma McDonald and the script is jam packed with every essential ingredient; we had ghost scenes, slapstick comedy, audience participation … the list is nearly as long as Cinders and Buttons’ To Do List! And this pantomime was perfectly cast with each character bringing their own unique charm and charisma to the stage.
Now the title may argue otherwise, but for me it was obvious from the off who the real star of the show was: the beloved Buttons (Gemma McDonald) who commanded the stage with her facial expressions, humour and excellent ability to rile up the crowd – essential when it comes to any pantomime. The near sold out audience, especially the children, made it clear she was their favourite and the queue for pictures after the performance only confirmed this.
Sarah Howlett (Cinderella) and Hannah King (Prince Charming) gave us our sickly sweet romantic duo who were destined to be together from their first clumsy meet, both with beautiful voices and the much needed innocence of star-crossed lovers!
However, each cast member shone, especially YorkMix Radio’s very own Laura Castle – who made her grand entrance starting the show as she entered the illuminated stage, accent first, which is always a delight to hear. She set the tone for what magic was in store before we got our opening number ‘Best Hotel in Town’ (‘Nicest Kids in Town’), jam-packed with energy, which showed us what a strong and hard working ensemble they have.
The set and costume design made this amateur performance feel truly professional, with characters having a new costume in nearly every scene. I cannot underestimate the amount of work that went into their creation led by costume coordinator Leni Ella and her team. Whether it be the brilliant dancers’ showgirl costumes or Cinderella’s magical transformation (no spoilers here), you will be amazed every time someone steps out onto the stage.
The set was an equal match, elevating each and every scene with added glitz and glamour. It was extremely impressive how much set they managed to comfortably squeeze in whilst having enough space remaining for a large cast and full orchestra, credit to Howard Ella, Anna Jones, Paul Mantle and Lee Smith for their design.
When it comes to the music, we must highlight Fairy Carabose’s (Marie-Louise Suregenor), whose vocals were phenomenal – so phenomenal many wanted to cheer her each and every solo, rather than the traditional boo and hiss reception the baddie would receive! But the song of the evening was her hilarious numbers with daughters Cassandra (Jamie McKeller) and Miranda (Michael Cornell) as they performed ‘I Know Him So Well’. Elaine Paige step aside…there’s three new stars in town, proving how a stripped back number, simply relying on overacting and strategic lighting, can steal a show! This trio truly were ‘The Elite of Goole’.
There was a great variety of music involved in the show, with more songs crammed into act one than in most full pantomimes! James Robert Ball led the band wonderfully as musical director, and even got his moments to shine during the performance. With incredible musical orchestrations by Jess Viner, and gifted musicians behind him, there was no doubting the quality of music throughout.
Some of my personal favourites are the ensemble-strong act two opener ‘Flash, Bang, What a Picture’, which would be sure to wake up any tired audience member after the interval. And their finale of ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ which included the use of sign language; it was added touches like this that made the performance wholesome from start to finish.
Whilst there was the odd hiccup, issues with transitions or slight slip-ups on lines, this only showed how talented the cast were and how often this worked in their favour to bring yet more comedy gold to the stage. There is no denying the strong sense of community to bring this fabulous pantomime to the stage. Speaking to production manager Helen Woodall before the show, she could not emphasise more what a team effort this is and the hard work and dedication that has gone into creating this pantomime. This definitely translated to the stage and everyone involved on and off the stage should be extremely proud of this production.
The near sold-out crowd could not get enough and I didn’t see a single child distracted or bored; they were hooked on every joke, musical number and outstanding actor! If you want to go to a magical pantomime with York at the heart of it, do not miss out on Cinderella at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre with performances until Saturday 16 December.
Tickets start from £18 and are available via the Joseph Rowntree Theatre website.