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Cinderella | Storyhouse Chester

Christmas is the time for spreading cheer and spending time with your loved ones, so what better way to intertwine these two elements than spending an evening at the Storyhouse Chester for this year’s production of Cinderella. We’ve all heard of this well-known and well-loved traditional tale, but this production, which is written by Samantha O’Rourke and directed by Hannah Noone, takes a modern approach, which is refreshing to see.


We meet Cinderella (Mali O’Donnell), a complete introvert who finds solace in her garden, watching her plants (and cabbages) grow and talking to her pet mice. She is happy in her own bubble and doesn't want to attend the ball and fall in love with the Prince. On the other side of the story, our Prince (Lewis Griffin) also has no desire to marry, and it his father, the King who plans a party for the Prince to find love. However, our Fairy Godmother and storyteller (Melinda Orengo), has other plans, changing the course of the story and leading Cinderella and the Prince to find each other, and ultimately learning more about themselves. This is a story that has all the traditional elements of a pantomime, but has an incredibly thought-provoking and heart-warming story that breaks sterotypes, as well as perfeclty intertwining an LGBTQ+ story, that is accepted and celebrated by the audience.


Performing to an audience of children who are extremely excited and hyped up on sweets is no easy feat. Praise must be given to the whole cast for maintaining their professionalism and reacting and interacting with the children at all times, making their evening an unforgettable one. This is a show where the enjoyment of all, especially the children, is at the forefront of the production, and it is truly incredible to witness the children lose themselves in the magic. Mali O’Donnell plays Cinderella with a real vulnerability and tenderness, sublime vocals, and is a complete joy to watch. Lewis Griffin brings the chaos and fun to his chracter, completely breaking the stereotypes of your traditional Prince, and the on-stage chemistry he has with his co-star is palable, making the story so believable.

Our ugly step-sisters (Jessica Jolleys and Sarah Workman), who are actually the very opposite of ugly and in a twist of events, enjoy being related to Cinderella, are a joy to watch. Jolleys has a lot of character work to play with, from going to the lovable and excitable step-sister, to desperately seeking revenge under the wicked spell of the Evil Wicked Stepmother (Sussanah Van Den Berg). Workman is an incredibly talented drummer, and it is joyous to see the interactions between Workman's character and the Fairy Godmother, who work incredibly well together to convey such an important story and message. Panto wouldn't be panto without a villain and it's up to Susannah Van Den Berg to get the crowd jeering, and boy does she achieve this and more! Van Den Berg is a convincing Evil Wicked Stepmother and has incredible vocals during a powerhouse performance to close act one.

John Holt-Roberts and Tasha Dowd steal every scene that they are in, playing multiple characters, they bring something unique to each character. Holt-Roberts is an absolute riot as the King, and has the audience in stitches. Dowd shows complete versatility in her characters, and is also an incredible vocalist. Completing the cast are Meg Narongchai and Robert Gathercole, who play multiple smaller roles, but absolutely command the stage and gain the audience's attention.

This production contains all the necessary hits for an absolute feel-good playlist, from Taylor Swift and Harry Styles, to ABBA and Elton John. Barnaby Southgate has included songs to please both the younger and older audience members, and it was refreshing to see that each song selected slotted into the plot perfectly, having a purpose in pushing the story forward. An element of pantomimes that are becoming more prominent in recent years is the actors also pairing up as musicians, and this never gets tiresome. It's such a fun element to a pantomime, and it was clear how much fun the cast were having as they played their instruments. There are some lovely choreographed moments (Paul Isles), particularly in the ballad numbers, that feel completely magical and are visually stunning to watch.

Set design comes from Jacob Hughes, and whilst the stage feels very sparse at times, with some props missing the mark in quality and a lighted screen towards the back of the stage that doesn't really serve a purpose, there are some lovely pieces of furniture that are transported onto the stage that are visually pleasing. Cinderella's shed looks incredibly cosy and inviting, the potato turned carriage is also a visual spectacle. The costumes (also Jacob Hughes) are fun and modern, perfectly encapsulating each character's personality. There is a gorgeous dress reveal during the Cinderella shall go to the ball scene, in which you could hear audible gasps in the audience. There are some lovely moments of lighting (Katy Morison), particularly the story globes above the stage lighting in different colours to match the atmosphere of the scene.


It must be noted that this is an incredibly strong four-star rating, with the potential to be a five star show. However, on this evening, there were slight issues with props breaking, the sound of the band completely drowning out the incredible vocals of Susannah Van Den Berg during a pivotal moment in the story, and a slight fumbling of some lines, which led to the show feeling slightly messy in some parts. However, the cast made a valiant effort in ensuring that the show went on, and it didn’t take away from the enjoyment of the whole audience, who throughout the entire show, looked like they were having the BEST evening.


Cinderella is the perfect feel-good family show, where the little ones (and big ones) can truly lose themselves in the magic of theatre. Cinderella is a popular story to recreate over the festive period, but this production is fresh, modern and an absolute joy to witness. A story of joy, acceptance, and love, Cinderella at the Storyhouse Chester is a must-see over the festive period. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Mark Carline


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