Is it midnight already? Cinderella sparkles at the Rhodes Centre
I’m a huge fan of traditional panto — and the annual offering at Rhodes Art Centre in Bishop’s Stortford doesn’t fail to deliver on that. It’s loud and colourful and funny — with a healthy dollop of innuendo — and I reckon this year’s Cinderella is the best one I’ve seen there so far.
I’m always struck by the heaps of young talent that seem to inhabit Bishop’s Stortford. Something in the water,, perhaps? The cast was, as always, brimming with enthusiasm and flair and overflowing with confidence — even the littlest (and so cute) members of the Junior Chorus. They’re great and they’re gorgeous — what more do you want?
And that talent just keeps going — the Senior Chorus danced and sang their socks off very impressively, and the leads stepped up to the challenge of panto with gusto and consummate professionalism. The Phoenix Theatre Arts school clearly has a great knack of spotting and developing some serious talent. I kept having to remind myself that even the leads were still in the sixth form — or barely out of college.
Georgia Collins as Cinders was just as sweet as she should be — and Joseph Vaina, as the besotted Buttons, leapt about the stage with more energy than I can ever imagine having. Loved Kate Coyston as the Fairy Godmother, too. Her frustration when everything seemed to be going awry was brilliant.
One thing I don’t normally enjoy about Cinderella is how lame Prince Charming can be. Not this time. Buck Braithwaite was great — bewailing the restrictions of his role as Prince, the frustration of no one ever asking what his real name is (I’m not going to tell you — he will!), and his frantic search for the lovely girl he met in the woods and again at the ball. He and his trusty sidekick Dandini, played with heaps of humour by Drew Gregg, filled the stage when they appeared — and you could sort of see why Cinders was so smitten. (Aside from the palace and money and all that…)
And while we’re talking balls (steady on…), the scene at the palace was epic. I can honestly say that I think it’s probably like no ball scene you’ve ever seen — like none I’ve ever seen, certainly — and so cleverly done. The choreography and timing must have been a total headache — but it came off beautifully. Again, don’t want to spoil the surprise but you’ll be raving about it afterwards…
And it’s not Cinderella without a wicked stepmother and a pair of ugly sisters. Phil Dale, who produced and directed the whole thing, makes a big, loud, Trunchbull-like stepmother — who runs the Hardup School of Dance (brace yourself for a fab ballet routine) and does plenty worth boo-ing. The ugly sisters were… well, they were amazing. I loved the contrast between the two, and the interactions between them were hilarious. Daniel Boulton and George Jack gave it their all — with performances well beyond their years, full of physical humour and bitchiness as well as plenty of smut. Love ’em.
As ever, the special effects are well beyond what you might expect — the use of lighting and, in particular, projection really sets the Phoenix Arts panto at Rhodes apart year on year. Again, I’m not going to give the good bits away — there’s something deeply delightful about the surprises they have up their sleeves — but you are going to love them. And the arrival of the mice drew an unprompted (and instantly embarrassing) “oooo” from my oh-so-cool Muddy teen. I know, really. Much as he’d hate to admit it, there were actually several bits when he just couldn’t help enjoying himself.
If you can get tickets — there are some left, I think – then you should. It’s a proper old-fashioned panto with loads of laugh, lots of yelling from the audience, and plenty of slapstick — as well as some cracking singing and dancing, and gasp-inducing special effects. And, to be fair, the slickest on-stage dress transformation I’ve seen.
And, of course, Cinders gets her man. Charming finds his princess. And the wicked stepmother gets her comeuppance. Just as it should be. Smashing stuff.
Love the photos? They’re courtesy (and copyright) of Malvern Hostick. They’re great, eh?