“EVERY year, we keep setting the bar higher and higher,” says Howard Ella, director of Rowntree Players’ “rollicking romp of a panto”.
This year being the Players’ centenary, Ella, his co-writer and co-designer Barry Benson, their cast and musical director Dan Hield’s band have responded to the challenge with all the brio of Britons’ Olympians on their home turf this summer.
Barry Benson, dame for the past four years, has been too busy with writing, producing and set-building commitments to daub on the rouge, but in his absence Graham Smith and Andy Welch’s Ugly Sisters’ Juanita and Elvira, are a fantastic small-and-tall, Yorkshire and Hispanic double act that channels Morecambe and Wise, whose Christmas shows are aped in a brilliant rough-and-tumble routine with Marie-Louise Surgenor’s Cinderella. If you remember how Eric and Ernie used to muck around with their female star guests, then you will love this bedroom slapstick song.
The ever-reliable Surgenor is a delightful Cinders, and it is good to see Claire Horsley back on the panto stage – as well as co-choreographing the show with Ami Walker – after a three-year hiatus, playing Prince Charming with traditional principal boy pluck. Leon Thompson’s elastic-bodied Buttons has bags of bounce and daft-as-a-brush banter, while Laura White’s Fairy Godmother Sian Davies’s Dandini and Finn Ella’s scene-stealing, bugle-blowing Page all add to the fun, as do Craig Jones’s hippy-suited Baron Hard-Up and Julie Harrison’s bossy, pushy Baroness.
The dance team contribute exuberantly, not least in high tails, and the songs and incidental music are superbly well chosen, whether it is the Baroness’s Good To Mama, She’s So Lovely, I’m A Believer or the Steptoe And Son theme.
Leni Ella’s costumes, especially for the Ugly Sisters, are a riot of colour and a pageant of prettiness too, and the sets are typical of Benson and Ella’s high standards. Their script is worthy of a professional company – it’s better than many – bringing fresh vigour to the panto stock in trade, but also sharp-eyed to popular culture, such as Fifty Shades Of Grey, internet dating and Frownton (as in Downton) Abbey.
Book pronto for this centenary panto: Ella and Benson’s best yet.
Cinderella – The Centenary Panto, Rowntree Players, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, until December 15. Box office: 07927 026071 and online at firstname.lastname@example.org