As the music swells and the curtain rises, the pantomime begins in rhyme, and this wonderfully festive tradition awakes once more at Christmastime.
Here in Buxton Opera House, sheltered away from the cold, a delightful feast of festive fun has sputtered to life. Cinderella is a lovely example of the joys of pantomime season, filled with laughter, singing, and silliness; there is so much to enjoy amidst the grand dances, mislaid plans, frilled gowns and romance in the fairy tale land of Buxtonia. At the beginning of our tale, the beautiful Cinderella is trapped and forced to slave away for her two stepsisters, and yet she still has an open, hopeful heart. She meets the prince and falls in love, and we are whirled into a frenzy of magic and music.
The choices of music were occasionally very successful, but occasionally less so. The song choices for the stepsisters, for example, were apt and well-suited to their comedic roles, while a few of the romantic moments featured music that made less sense within the story. Sometimes a song choice was used as a punchline for a joke, which always worked well, but it seemed unnecessary to continue playing the song for longer than a few seconds. Pacing is always important in comedy, and the faster, snappier jokes here were often the most successful. James Holmes and David Dale as the stepsisters were especially good at this style of delivery; they were the makeup-encrusted, flouncing heart of this production and sold every moment they were on stage together.
One comedic note that didn’t seem to work completely was the character of Buns the bunny. He was an unnecessary addition, especially as a counterpart to Buttons, played by Aidan Bailey, who was engaging enough on his own. Perhaps he needed more time on stage, and a more deliberate comedic purpose. The character of the witch (Amy Gray Edgell) is also hardly present throughout the show, exemplifying how the silliness of pantomime humour could have been emphasised even further. Her scarcity is drawn attention to briefly, in one joke, but it could have been utilised further as an opportunity to play into the camp meta-theatricality which is often one of the most entertaining elements of a pantomime: its acknowledgement of and ownership over its form.
Arguably though, as well as the rehearsed and choreographed comedy, the best parts of any pantomime are the mistakes, the charming breaks in character, that prove the actors are having fun too. Although they were by no means abundant, these moments of personality were occasional here, and always enjoyable. The light-hearted playfulness of the birthday shout-outs, for example, reflected how even the unpolished moments of a pantomime can be exactly what pantomime should be.
Cinderella was raucous, funny, engaging, and a perfect family treat for the Christmas season, overflowing with magic and festivity. The stage magic worked well, and the performers were capable and brimming with energy. In the titular role, Georgia Gallagher is endearing and regal, and both her and Charlotte-Hannah Jones as the fairy godmother shone in their accomplished singing performances. But as the actors took their bows, the main takeaway seemed to be that everyone there – both on stage and in the audience - was having pure, festive fun. And that was how we reached the finale of tonight’s show: with a very happy ending.
At the start of next year - when the curtain has closed for this Christmas season and the snow has melted - it will be a shame to say goodbye, but we know that we will find ourselves here again soon. Cinderella has met her prince, and they’ve lived happily ever after, so it will be time for a new chapter and a new story…. We’ll just have to do it again, then, won’t we?
Buxton Opera House is showing Cinderella until the 1st January 2024. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by David John King Photography