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Monday 17th December 2007
Christmas Theatre Review | CINDERELLA | The Old Vic

Production: Cinderella
Playwright: Stephen Fry
Producer: The Old Vic Theatre Company
Venue: The Old Vic
Address: The Cut, London SE1 8NB
Box Office: +44 (0)870 060 6628
Dates: 4 December 2007 - 20 January 2008
Opened: 10 December 2007 (postponed until 13 December)
Buy Theatre Tickets from Ticketmaster
Reviewed by Harriet Davis

There were very few children at the opening of this year's Old Vic panto, and for good reason. Stephen Fry's foul-mouthed, strangely stilted Cinderella is no family affair. Long-winded obscenities and relentless explicit references sit uneasily alongside lines like, "According to Plato, happiness is contingent on virtue." Cinderella takes a back seat to her scenery-gobbling sisters, played with camp relish by Mark Lockyer and Hal Fowler. While our heroine (Madeleine Worrall in Blue Peter mode) dreams of her Prince, trusty servant Buttons dreams of a man with strong thighs. Radio 4-famed Sandi Toksvig narrates, just to remind us that this is a thoroughly middle class affair.

While Fry is a natural with language, he is by no means a great lyricist. The opening number, 'Pantoland', is a shuffling, muddled affair and the music (provided by Anne Dudley) is humdrum. Ultimately, Fry does what he's always done – acerbic satire – and while this works fine for the comedy numbers (most notably 'I Cannot Abide the People at Parties'), it falls flat in the scenes which are necessarily played straight. Worse still, the songs aren't catchy enough to stick, and the choreography is only ever ordinary.

Having said this, there are a few classic Fry moments. Prince Charming (Joseph Millson, spot on) is a colourful creation, and his trusted friend Dandini even more so. Panto has always been a high-camp affair but Fry tosses it entirely out of the closet by having Chippendale Dandini indulging in a sexually-charged showering scene with the Prince. The men discuss their dream women until it becomes clear that Dandini's dream woman is a man. The entire scene is joyous, neatly unveiling the homoerotic subtext.

Toksvig is also fun, commenting with characteristic wit on both the action and the audience ("You're telling me you don't know where Fortnum & Mason's is and you're sitting on the front row?"). Pauline Collins makes a great Fairy Godmother – played here as a worldly-wise Cockney – and even Cinderella has a twinkle in her eye. The penultimate scene consists of an ode to a cow whose mate has departed and the whole thing is topped off with a gay marriage.

It's very much a question of taste and there will be some who find the incessant dildo jokes hard to stomach. Cinderella's sisters are relentless and like their endlessly repeatable (and repetitive) Little Britain counterparts, they quickly wear thin. Their mother, Candida, is a strange choice of casting. While Dolce and Gabbana (the sisters) are played by cross-dressing men, Candida is played by a rather underwhelming Debbie Chazen. Why she should be female and the others not is a mystery; she also makes for a pretty weak villain.

Overall, the production is an acquired taste. While certainly more interesting than your standard fare – if only for the references to T S Eliot – this is demanding, sometimes draining stuff. The jokes are risqué, the characters brash, and it's a good half-hour too long. When Fry's in full flow, he's great; now all he needs to do is cut out the dead wood.

Harriet Davis © 2007

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