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Cinderella reviews .. December 2023
Lee Mead and Neil Hurst in Cinderella at the Hull New Theatre, 2023/24 First performances of Cinderella at Hull New Theatre were on Saturday 16 December and reviews started appearing early the following week, mostly based on the Sunday evening performance of the opening weekend. You can read them all below and as I was lucky enough to be at the early shows myself, I'll add a few thoughts of my own to the pot.

Glorious blue skies set the tone for the weekend, welcoming us as warmly as did the people of Hull, while inside the beautifully refurbished Hull New Theatre, families and friends gather - some festooned in fairy lights, Christmas jumpers abounding. The noise of a pre-panto auditorium is unique in theatre... the rising hubbub of voices, greetings, laughter, shrieks of excitement giving the merest inkling of the volume that will be reached later in the show. And that's just the adults!

As always the audience spans the generations, from babes in arms to grand, maybe even great-grand parents, and there is a very real sense of occasion, of a community coming together. Then the lights dim, leaving spots of colour from wands and unicorns and spinners (even a couple of light-up machine guns from the unofficial stall outside the theatre - not *quite* in the spirit of panto, methinks!), and a puff of smoke and sparkles heralds the arrival of the Fairy Godmother (Olivia Mitchell) to welcome us all to pantoland.

Rebekah Lowings in Cinderella at the Hull New Teatre, 2023/24 The curtain lifts on Cinderella (Rebekah Lowings) and the villagers (the small, but perfectly formed ensemble - Phoebe Charles, Georgina Clarke, Rebecca French, Dominic Gore, Sophie Quay and Michele Verdicchio) before we are introduced, in fairly quick succession, to the rest of the cast...

  • Cinderella's step-sisters Hernia (Peter Peverley) and Verruca (Jack Land Noble) in the first of a series of gloriously grotesque costumes, setting up an 'Aren't we gorgeous?' 'NOOO!' gag that would last all show;

  • her best friend Buttons (Neil Hurst), confessing his secret love for Cinders to the audience and charging us with guarding his present for her - I'm still working on the perfect Hull accent for 'er ner, leave the present alern';

  • Prince Charming's right-hand man Dandini (Spin), strolling on to introduce the man himself, who arrives in suitably Princely style on a hand-drawn chariot. Blue tights, gold boots this year, a rather stylish pelisse draped over his right shoulder!

  • From the start, it's easy to see why Neil Hurst is such a local favourite - he hits all the right comedy notes, tickling funny bones young and old with a wonderful blend of the absurd, the whimsical and the risqué. And he does so with a warmth of spirit that pervades the whole production. As Lee tweeted earlier this week, he has "that perfect mix of comedy and absolute heart" and in an age where humour is too often at someone else's expense, he's a real breath of fresh air.

    Lee Mead and Neil Hurst in Cinderella at the Hull New Theatre, 2023/24 With a cast who are clearly all very comfortable with their particular roles in this delicious anarchy that is pantomime, the pace never flags - the songs, skits and gags keep on coming and there's barely time for the audience to draw collective breath between cheers, boos and belly laughs.

    Speaking of songs... an early outing for the happily obligatory 'Any Dream Will Do' finds our Prince in mighty fine voice, Buttons providing the comic asides (at the gentler end of the snark scale), before adding his own fine voice to the proceedings... eventually! The 'wall scene' (pictured) also makes a very welcome return, this year to the tune of '(Everything I Do) I Do It For You' - the athleticism with which Lee, sorry... Prince Charming, repeatedly regains his seat on the wall and the sheer enthusiasm with which he 'body slams' his love-rival Buttons has me grinning even now.

    Our patter sketch this year, involving poisonous pythons, sees Buttons relaying ever more extravagant and complex alliterations from one ugly sister to the other, the danger of an unintended (or perhaps perfectly scripted!) spoonerism never far from their lips - shrieks of laughter, at that pitch that only children can reach, greeting any slips.

    Lee Mead and Jack Land Noble in Cinderella at the Hull New Theatre, 2023/24 As we near the end of the first half, the Fairy Godmother starts to weave her magic... conjuring first a chorus line of pumpkins, then a ball gown, with cries of 'how did they do that?' greeting each reveal (including my own at the appearance of the first dancing pumpkin!). But my favourite moment comes just before the curtain falls, as the beautifully behaved, matched pair of white Shetland ponies start to pull the glittering, silver coach across the stage... and the little one next to me gasps in total awe 'they're real'!

    Act 2 opens with more magic... in the form of some fancy footwork from Prince Charming and Dandini as they and the ensemble dance to a song from one of the big-hit movies of the year, Dua Lipa's 'Dance the Night' from Barbie (though I confess I had to google the 'watch me dance' lyric to find out what it was - I'm so not 'down with the kids'!) The glamour of the ball, its budding royal romance brought to an abrupt end as the clock strikes midnight, gives way (via a little magic in the forest) to the slapstick chaos of 'If We Were Not at Hardup Hall' featuring the sisters, Buttons and our dashing Prince. I was very happy to find Lee taking his place in this particular line-up - he wields a feather duster and a rubber glove with great aplomb and impeccable timing, so it's always a disappointment if the 'comedy song' plays out without him.

    Rebekah Lowings, Lee Mead and the company of Cinderella at the Hull New Theatre, 2023/24 I had no intention of giving quite such a blow by blow account of the show and, at this rate, I'll be back in Hull before I've shared my thoughts from my first visit, so let me round up with a few final shout outs. To Neil Hurst (again) for being an absolute joy with the kids who join him on stage each show for a chat and an attempt at singing 'Smart Fellas' without the almost inevitable mishaps; to the fabulous band - Jon Richardson (MD/keyboards), Lisa Featherstone (bass guitar) and Mark Knight (drums/percussion); and to Andy Higgins, the British Sign Language interpereter whose signing brought a new dimension to the Saturday evening show for everyone present, including the cast! Credit too to Ant Robling for the production photos included here (click any to see the full Gallery), the final few curtain call shots are my own.

    This panto is already one of my favourites from all those I've seen over the past 11 years - it isn't flashy, it has no huge special effects, it isn't packed so full of celebrity 'turns' that there's little room for the story. But it has light and colour, glittering sets, gorgeous costumes, dance and song and so much laughter. It has real heart and a wonderful cast who serve it well. I hope they see the joy they give reflected back at them show after show from hundreds of beaming, happy faces.

    The company of Cinderella at the Hull New Theatre, 2023/24 The run continues until Sunday 7 January, with best availability in the final week, and I can do no more than urge you to get there if you possibly can. You won't regret it! Book online here.

    Click thumbnails below to read reviews:

    Published: 23/12/2023
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