Just after I sat back down in the interval with a pint and a bag of cheese and onion McCoy’s, one of this Cinderella’s two Ugly Sisters came up to me and asked rather sweetly if she could have a crisp. Hardly an unreasonable request given that during the first half, one actor, Alex Griffin Griffiths, had asked a man a few seats along from me if he could lick his face. The guy said yes with no hesitation – one of many moments of the good vibes flying around in this raucous and gratifying reinvention of panto.
Sure, Mr Facey Licky might have been an acquaintance of Griffiths. But it would be wrong to suggest that Not Too Tame has rustled up an entire audience of mates and immersive theatre devotees for this pub-based night of panto. The show’s performed with tables and benches set out in traverse, which meant that I had a great view of my fellow audience members. Half of the fun of the night was enjoying the array of spectator reactions, from incessant guffaws to a fair bit of bored phone checking, which did not remotely detract from this panto’s joys. With its black and white painted gable roof, hodgepodge of dated furnishings and inevitable bust of Tom Jones on the wall, the bar of the London Welsh Centre was in many ways the show’s secret weapon.
Griffiths plays the part of Buttons, who’s reimagined as Cinderella’s dog, now exhibiting extreme suicidal tendencies following the death of his former owner: Cinders’ dad, Dave. In this version of the story, Dave was a giant of the community, whose untimely passing not only left a hole in the hearts his family, but also left the annual Christmas karaoke night without its long-standing host. This leaves Cinders subject to the cruelty of her stepmother Judy Garland (Jess Johnson, who stands out among a brilliantly committed cast) and stepsisters, Simone and Garfunkel (ho ho ho), who have been appointed to take over the running of the show.
The cast also includes Cinderella’s godparent Mike, who plots to provide Cinders with a dress so she can meet the stepsisters’ contrived requirement to attend the party. Mike (Jack Brown) is a large, hairy chap who wears a glittery dress and refuses to offer any justification for his choice of attire – one of the more upfront ways Luke Barnes’ script smashes through the problematic gender weirdness that’s one of panto’s defining characteristics, and lays down its own ideas. The final character is Prince Charming (real name, after the singer), a turtleneck-clad fuckboy with whom it’s pretty obvious Cinders will not end up happily ever after.
The show opens with a full cast, full length, profoundly out of tune performance of Bohemian Rhapsody with new lyrics, which is… something, alright. The karaoke numbers punctuating the ensuing action are hit and miss (as if they could be anything else) but a couple, such as Prince Charming’s rendition of Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Dance Wiv Me’ are pretty fucking entertaining. At no point does the energy ever dip below 110%, and Barnes’ script is jam-packed with comic bangers of absolutely every shade. There are earnest moments, generally concerned with defending the value of working class culture; but if it ever starts to feel a teensy bit forced, the tension is typically popped with a one-liner of magnificently appalling content.
The friend that came to see the show with me wasn’t totally on board with it, despite being a fan of Barnes’ previous plays with Middle Child (which confusingly did its own reimagined Cinderella last year). She wasn’t alone: there was a chap close by who genuinely seemed to be there under duress, and did not take kindly to having his arse sniffed by Buttons as he walked to buy a drink. But there you go, that’s panto: you’re either up for it or you’re not.
Cinderella: A Wicked Mother of a Night Out is touring in London, Reading and Salford until 22nd December. More info here.