Panto is a "triumph" at Eastbourne’s Royal Hippodrome Theatre

REVIEW BY Kevin Anderson

Friday, 24th December 2021, 9:34 am
Updated Friday, 24th December 2021, 9:36 am
Cinderella, Royal Hippodrome, Eastbourne
Cinderella, Royal Hippodrome, Eastbourne

Cinderella is possibly the ultimate Christmas pantomime: a magical story of love and romance, of handsome suitor and blushing beauty. At Eastbourne’s Royal Hippodrome Theatre that story comes alive this Christmas.

What makes the perfect pantomime? There’s an easy list: much loved characters and stories retold; radiant colour and a huge wardrobe of extravagant costumes; broad humour and slapstick; upbeat music and dazzling effects.

Yes, this RHT production ticks literally all that list. But there is one further element: engagement with your audience. Pantomime must be the hardest theatre form to rehearse in an empty studio, but the most rewarding to deliver to a full auditorium – the actors need to play the silly moments, milk the applause and bounce off the laughter. And that is what the Royal Hippodrome company achieves, in carriage-loads.

The Hippodrome auditorium is quite intimate, and the front stalls, absolutely packed with youngsters (and parents), are onside within minutes with Luke Roberts’ Buttons - engaging and energetic, an absolutely irresistible character. Baron Hardup in this production is a bluff, broadly humorous Jonny Ritchie in Scottish trews – and equally at ease with audience participation.

Cinderella herself is no sweet and simpering heroine but a pretty and rather feisty Katie Sanders – with a magnificent singing voice, especially in duet with Eastbourne’s most handsome aristocrat, Grant Martins as Prince Charming. Grant has just the right balance of noble bearing and genuine chemistry with Cinders. Alongside the Prince, Daniel Garnham is a suave and witty Dandini.

The Hippodrome stage simply shimmers. Not the most vast of playing spaces, but that space is expertly exploited, and the backcloths give depth and context. In any case, this is not a production that depends on giant sets or clever tricks.

The colour schemes are bold and the lighting is superb, with more glitterballs than Strictly, and lots of dramatic effects.

And when Fairy G – a bouncy and utterly lovable Rachel Cantrill – weaves her magic on a handful of mice and a pair of pumpkins, we are rewarded with an absolutely stunning Royal Coach, literally drawing gasps of admiration from audience young and old. A truly magical moment, and the sort of stunning experience that only live theatre can achieve.

Have we forgotten anyone? Oh yes, we have! Covina and Ronella Hardup – respectively Paul Leno and Jack Everson – are the two most outrageous Dames you will ever have the misfortune to encounter. Roaring put-downs, rudest of puns and ribald posturing: these two are merciless, and the audience absolutely love them.

An accomplished dance ensemble – including delightful juveniles – give excellent backing, and a highly experienced tech team includes Megan Stanfield on the lighting and Stuart French as stage manager.

The story, of course is classic, and in Act Two it unfolds with style and elegance. From the steps of the Palace to the heart of the Royal Ballroom, Cinders touches her dream as the Great Gold Clock races at atomic speed towards twelve. Escape she cannot, and Prince Charming wins his fair Princess.

The show is a co-production between the in-house team of Debbie and Alex Adams, with support from Laura Sivers, and Paul Leno's Neon Theatrical. They have jointly worked their pantomime magic: a triumph for the Royal Hippodrome.

REVIEW BY Kevin Anderson