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Samantha O’Rourke

Storyhouse Originals Production

Storyhouse, Chester

Dec 6, 2023-Jan 6, 2024

Cinders and the girls get down to some light aerobics in Cinderella at Storyhouse
Cinders and the girls get down to some light aerobics in Cinderella at Storyhouse

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As soon as the fairy godmother asks the audience to choose a story, you know this is going to be a departure from Storyhouse pantos of the last couple of years.

We are invited to choose a tale from several globes, each representing a different story. The fourth wall is gleefully torn down and the fairy appeals to the child in each of us to listen as she recounts a famous story.

This places the panto firmly in the storytelling tradition, and the show sticks to the original Cinderella storyline most of the time in the first act before going into a wild digression of its own in its second.

This is creativity; taking an original idea, putting a spin on it and running with it. Does it succeed? Undoubtedly so. This is a superb night's entertainment, which grabs the attention of young and old and holds on to it to the end.

Whether it is the enthusiasm of the cast, the excellent characterisation in Samantha O’Rourke’s script, or the seamless transition from narrative to song, the players make the audience feel part of the action. Many actors fulfil a dual role – acting and playing – and most take more than one role. As well as an interesting narrative, this is a "rock 'n' roll" panto, in a style that is increasingly popular now.

There is a hint that some of the traditional roles in Cinderella are to be upended when the Ugly Sisters (who aren't at all ugly) are either nice or even sympathetic to Cinders, taking her side against the wicked stepmother. They even gave a back-story of why the mother-in-law is so embittered: that she was rejected by Hogwarts. Cinderella is no shrinking violet, but didn't even want to attend the ball, being happy pottering in her garden and keeping out of the way of the rest of the family. The prince isn't a hunk, but a tall, gangly, awkward youth who really isn’t ready to settle down. He dances well though...

The two leads, Mali O’Donnell as Cinderella and Lewis Griffin as the Prince, are excellent, but there is truly not a weak link in the show. Tasha Dowd as Mo/Susan/Shimmer is great as a PR-obsessed wedding arranger; John Holt-Roberts performs some interesting dad-dancing as the KIng/Ghost Father; Susannah van den Berg is monstrously scary as the wicked stepmother – Debbie. And subtly, Sarah Workman as Lena, a so-called ugly sister, plays drums, traverses the awkward ladder several times and adds her pointed remarks at just the right time – challenging some of the stereotypes associated with the story.

We know that panto season is highly important to a theatre, especially one like Storyhouse that likes to produce its own material, encourage community links and train young, aspiring actors. Tickets for this one are rightly selling fast: so well-worth popping on an ill-fitting slipper or two and trying to get into the ball. You'll have a ball...

More info and tickets here


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