They say that Romeo and Juliet is the greatest love story ever told, but head to The Hexagon this Christmas and you’ll find that notion quickly dispelled.
Cinderella – a rags to riches romance – has enchanted us for generations and, as Imagine Theatre prove with its pantomime retelling, it’s going to enthral for generations to come.
The plot needs little introduction: girl with Ugly Step-sisters forced to work as a slave, stopped from going to a ball organised by handsome prince and Fairy Godmother saves the day. After the ball, Cinders leaves glass slipper behind and beautiful Prince vows to find the owner. Slipper reunited with foot, a wedding takes place and they all live happily ever after … even the Ugly Sisters.
This is the fifth panto that Imagine has brought to Reading and it’s another magical triumph that does the town proud. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll have a ball.
The main cast work really well together – it’s clear that they’re enjoying themselves just as much as we the audience are.
The show opens with a visit from Liza Goddard’s Fairy Godmother. A kind, gentle performance, she really does feel like that magical friend that every child wishes for and it would have been a joy to have had at least one more scene with her.
The Fairy Godmother introduces Anna Williamson as Cinderella. The actor, who also appears as an agony aunt on This Morning, gives an incredibly convincing performance – when the Ugly Sisters prevented her from going to the ball, her despair brought a tear to my eye. She lights up the stage and really shines in the musical numbers including riffs on Nine To Five and I’ve Had The Time Of My Life.
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Hairy Bike Dave Myers makes his panto debut as Baron Hardup and proves to be a natural for the role. His joyous bonhomie enlivens the stage and his appearance on Strictly Come Dancing is milked well.
Another TV star also has his fame exploited to great effect: Jon Clegg, finalist (and funniest) in this year’s Britain’s Got Talent. His ability to have the audience eating out of the palm of his hand is a joy to behold. My children loved greeting him every time he walked on stage and his impressions always hit the spot.
The two Ugly Sisters – returning Paul Morse and debutante Ian Ganderton – are a fabulous double act, hitting just the right notes of bitchiness and campness to make the role a success. Their ongoing sparring with two audience members is a real highlight while their outrageous costumes and barbed one-liners make them a force to be reckoned with.
Completing the main cast are another double act the wonderful Claire Trusson as Prince Charming and Jessie Lilley as Dandini. The pair sparkle and shine as they slap their thighs and drive the plot. With strong voices and gorgeous costumes the pair light up the stage.
The ensemble dancers, including returning Dan Westwood, are superb and really add to the show’s all-singing, all-dancing appeal.
All the elements are there, including a great take on the Ghosbusters scene and a joyous slosh scene, this year set in a bathroom. Cinderella’s transformation by the Fairy Godmother is a difficult moment to pull off and I felt it lacked some final sparkle, however this is more than made up for by the amazing flying pony right at the end of Act One.
Imagine has a real attention to detail so that every part of the show sparkles. Set design, costumes, young dancers and the musicians all add to the sum of a show that is memorable for all the right reasons.
I went with three young children – aged seven, six and four – and they really enjoyed it, joining in with all the booing and behind yous, and on the edge of their seat during the dramatic moments.
They loved the inventive gags, including a sock that is longer than Doctor Who’s scarf and want to go and see it all over again. With a show as good as this, who can blame them?
Cinderella is a triumph that does Reading proud. Even Simon Cowell would say yes to this.
Cinderella is performed at The Hexagon until Sunday, January 4. Tickets cost £20.50 with discounts for groups and schools. There is a special Relaxed Performance on Friday, January 2 at 10.30am, with tickets cost £1. An Audio Described performance will take place on Monday, December 29 at 1pm and two BSL Interpreted performances will take place on Tuesday, December 30 at 1pm & 5pm.
For more details, click here or call the box office on 0118 960 6060.