Cinderella (Rogernella? Gingerfella?) the Pantomime, delightfully mixed-up fun at Circa Theatre

Circa Theatre presents:
CINDERELLA – the Pantomime
Written by Simon Leary and Gavin Rutherford

Directed by Susan Wilson
Musical Director: Michael Nicholas Williams
Set Design: John Hodgkins
Lighting Design: Marcus McShane
Costume Design: Sheila Horton
Musical Staging: Leigh Evans

Cast: Gavin Rutherford (Rosie Bubble)
Natasha McAllister (Cinderella)
Jonathan Morgan (Bayley)
Kathleen Burns (Tommy)
Bronwyn Turei (Dandini)
Simon Leary (Buttons)
Jack Buchanan (Prince Ashley)

Circa Theatre, Taranaki St, Wellington

Until 20 December, 2020, then 2-16 January 2021

Two of the show’s actors, Simon Leary (Buttons the Rat) and Gavin Rutherford (Rosie Bubble, the Fairy Godmother) are the authors of this wonderfully irreverent “take” on the classic Cinderella story, complete with up-to-date parochial and international references, foot-tapping music (two songs I actually KNEW, despite my advanced years!) and entertainingly-staged ensemble dancing, some of the best I’ve seen at Circa Pantomimes. In fact I thought Leigh Evans’ actual staging of characters’ movements throughout these was among the most polished and slickly-contrived I’d encountered at a pantomime in recent times, there being various breathless sequences of more-or-less constant fluidity of character, incident and venue to enjoy.

Audiences vary, as any experienced performer will affirm; but I also can’t remember a Circa Pantomime at which an audience seemed to demonstrably enjoy the show more than this one did. We all seemed to be enclosed, fore and aft, in a kind of appreciative bubble of responsiveness with some very noisy company, everybody determined to make the most of every gag, clever one-liner, spectacular routine or irruption of surprise contrived for us by director Susan Wilson! And, of course, such a “chain reaction” fore and aft of the footlights added immeasurably to the show’s essential dynamic, leaving us both exhausted and replete at the end.

Pantomimes are occasions where, besides indulging in child-like enjoyment of innocent fun, one can give satisfying vent to one’s biases and prejudices of social and political kinds, thanks to the “types” embodied in the story-line or stage action – and especially when they’re connected, however tenuously or otherwise, to prominent public figures who are the representatives of things we love to love or love to hate! Gavin Rutherford’s portrayal of the Fairy Godmother “Rosie Bubble” bestrode all of these worlds, being in a theatrical sense an on-the-fence commentator, while also having an integral “part” in the proceedings – we loved his/her “fairy” aspect both for the wish-fulfilment magical powers and the LGBTQ association (underlined by Rosie’s sudden cry when surprised – “Don’t hurt me! – I’m a fairy! – You’ll be done for a hate crime!” at one point), as well as the inexhaustible stream of drollery, constantly mispronouncing Cinderella’s name throughout (with “Salmonella” being just one of a stream of hilariously Malapropish misnomers!).

The “good” characters drew from both established lore (Natasha McAllister’s Cinderella, Bronwyn Turei’s Dandini, and Simon Leary’s Buttons the Rat, Cinderella named as such by Charles Perrault in the classic French retelling of the story, Dandini, the Prince’s valet, by Jacopo Feretti, the librettist of La Cenerentola, Rossini’s operatic version of “Cinderella”, and Buttons the Rat a manifestation of that common fairy-tale phenomenon, a creature changed against its will into something less salubrious) and from present-day role models of positive renown (Jack Buchanan’s Prince Ashley of the Blooming Fields, whose modestly-expressed ambition during the drama’s course is to have “a meaningful job in the Public Service”)! The “bad guys” were both cross-dressed (Jonathan Morgan’s outrageous “Bayley” and Kathleen Burns’s spivish “Tommy”), each stigmatised with blatant “Real Estate Agent” labels through Buttons the Rat confessing to hiding from them in the rubbish bin!  One of them (I forget which)  admitted to being an “ex-parking-warden”, and both of them expressed delusions of a grandeur which would be attained by plotting  a connubial connection between Bayley and the hapless Prince Ashley!

Just as a pandemic is presently wreaking havoc through many peopled parts of the world, so was here an unnamed dread seen to be occasionally visited upon the land and its inhabitants in the form of a lightning-and-thunder sequence which intermittedly cast fear and uncertainty into the characters’ minds most effectively. But “kindness”, a recently-projected spin-off panacea for national ills, made a welcome appearance in the mix, here, if in a different, more personalised way, with the Prince’s recognition of Cinderella as an individual person, despite his “face blindness” affliction. And at the delusional end of the spectrum was the immortal line spoken by one of the villains, Tommy and Bayley, while in disguise: – “Ere! Don’t you know who we THINK we are?” – something I made a mental note to use for my own purposes somewhere socially as soon as I could!

Though very much the “acted upon” throughout, both Natasha McAllister’s Cinderella and Jack Buchanan’s Prince Ashley were perfect exemplars of goodness and innocence throughout, with McAllister’s singing voice a fulcrum throughout for the success of Musical Director Michael Nicholas Williams’ sure-fire musical continuities that played such a part in forwarding the action. The ever-pleasing Bronwyn Turei as Dandini I thought magnetic as always with her voice and physical presence enlivening the ensembles, and though I wasn’t familiar with songs like “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “I need a Hero”, my 1960s antennae were sent into paroxysms of retro-excitement by the company’s full-blooded renditions of “Five O’Clock World” and “I’m a Believer”!

The props were simple but spectacularly effective as witnessed the remarkable skeletal-but-still-stunning coach which took Cinderella to the ball! And I liked the simple but similarly stunning transformation effect of Cinderella’s costume-turned-ball-gown, replicated by Bayley as part of the dastardly plot to install the latter as the Prince’s bride. The children who were called up onto the stage at one point during the second act would have relished the excitement and wonderment of entering into such a phantasmagorical land – such a pleasure to register the looks and feelings writ-large on their faces at certain points!

It was what it was all about for all of us, at our varying individual stages of appreciation, and real enjoyment of others’ pleasure! The show plays at Circa Theatre until December 20th this year, and from the 2nd to the 16th of January, 2021.



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