THEATRE ROYAL PLYMOUTH – 18 JANUARY 2020
RUNNING TIME 2 HOURS 15 MINUTES – ONE INTERVAL
Theatre Royal Plymouth Box Office – 01752 267222
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 23 DECEMBER 2019
A QDOS Pantomime will be seen in 35 venues this Christmas/New Year and there is no doubt that they have transformed the landscape of the traditional theatre show. Huge, colourful sets, wonderful costumes, high quality music and dance and big names; add to this some spectacular set-pieces and you have a show which dazzles and thrills in turn.
Cinderella is always a huge favourite with audiences – a great story which offers up the production team some chances to wow the audience with clever and neat transformations. Thus, the offering at Plymouth this year gifts us the sets, costumes and colour along with a troupe of tap-dancing pumpkin headed hoofers and a coach and horses which ‘flies’ out into the audience – impressive it certainly is.
The headline act – and it’s difficult not to notice this as he keeps reminding everyone – is Brian Conley, on a brief sojourn from the musical ‘9 to 5’ in the West End of London – he returns after pantomime – also, something he reminded us, even giving us a brief blast of the title song. In fact, is there actually anyone else in this show? Well, of course there is, but they are completely overwhelmed by Conley who appears to have artistic control of the production – he does have a credit for the writing.
Don’t get me wrong, Brian Conley is a consummate performer and can work a crowd as well as anyone – he knows all the tricks in the book and uses them all in order to get a reaction. Gurning and ‘farting’ his way through the show, he pushes the boundaries of innuendo occasionally but hey, it’s pantomime! There are some good routines – the falling off the wall one and the toilet one – but they do go on too long and run out of steam.
If you strip the show down though, there is very little to it – the story is there just about but without Conley’s antics there would be about 20 minutes of entertainment. All the other roles are very subservient to Buttons – the Ugly Sisters, who are wonderfully dressed, offer great possibilities, but have little time to do very much except utter their catchphrase and hurry off stage again. Dandini – often a significant role – is reduced to a fairly minor figure. Wicked Stepmother doesn’t even make it on stage. The script is poor – the jokes are few and far between – laughter is garnered through visuals, sound effects and the ritual humiliation of members of the audience. Most pantomimes depend on a good script – this one dispenses with such frippery.
Jenny Gayner presents a warm Fairy Godmother and Sarah Vaughan a likeable Cinderella. Will Richardson has little to do but stand there and be pretty as Prince Charming and, as mentioned, Ed Wade is pretty much wasted as Dandini. Ben Stock and Neal Wright, as Tess and Claudia, offer so much potential, but aren’t really given the chance.
Music, choreography and lighting create a wonderful sound and sight and transform the proceedings to a magical world for everyone – particularly the many young people.
But this is the Brian Conley show and if you are not a fan, then maybe this isn’t for you. I am not a fan, though his talent in certain areas is undeniable. I ended up feeling rather sorry for the rest of the cast who were handed a paper-thin script and, presumably, a warning that they were not starring in this production – there was to be only one star and he was the one on the poster.
BUTTONS – BRIAN CONLEY
TESS – BEN STOCK
CLAUDIA – NEAL WRIGHT
PRINCE CHARMING – WILL RICHARDSON
FAIRY GODMOTHER – JENNY GAYNER
DANDINI – ED WADE
CINDERELLA – SARAH VAUGHAN
ENSEMBLE – PHOEBE HENDERSON, SERGIO MILELLA, KATIE MOORHEAD, SIAN NABBS, MADELEINE NICHOLLS, NIALL SWORDS, RHODRI WATKINS, REECE WOODIER
THE THEATRE ROYAL BABES
DIRECTOR – KATHRYN ROONEY
CHOREOGRAPHER – ELLIOT NIXON
LIGHTING DESIGN – CHRIS WINN
SET DESIGN – IAN WESTBROOK AND 3D CREATIONS
SPECIALITY COSTUMES – MIKE COLTMAN
MUSICAL DIRECTOR – DAVID LANE
WRITERS – MICHAEL HARRISON & BRIAN CONLEY