There is a handy bus-stop just by the Devonshire Park Theatre. You wait all year – and a glittering, shimmering coach turns up. Ride with Cinderella’s coach, for it takes you to sheer seasonal magic.
Everyone has a favourite panto, and all have their merits. Some are funnier, some are scarier. But none capture the imagination and melt the heart like Cinderella. It does blends all the elements, but it has to be style over slapstick, regal over raucous. Cinderella is the ultimate pantomime, and this is the ultimate Cinderella.
A scattering of topical jokes – Brexit-free – are all very good-natured, and top impressionist Hilary O’Neil Hilary freshens the Fairy G role with a delicious absent-mindedness and sense of fun, and her re-creations of Tess Daly, Claudia Winkleman and Stacey Dooley are Strictly impeccable.
A bright village set and a flurry of smiling dancers open the show and within minutes, the one and only Tucker has us hooked. As Buttons, that vital link between stage and audience, Tucker is simply non-pareil: he could improvise helpless comedy in a dentist’s waiting room. In Cinderella, of course, you get double the Dames. Scott St Martyn and Martyn Knight are a fabulous pair of Uglies, never knowingly under-acted. Each costume change more outrageous, each beautifully timed riposte or gesture more scathing. This year’s slapstick is a bathroom full of disastrous plumbing, with possibly one toilet joke too many, but suds and slip-ups by the tubful.
Director Chris Jordan takes the interesting decision to place the slapstick scene in Act One rather than after the interval, and to omit a Ghostbusters scene. Before you write scandalised protests, consider the dramatic strategy: it allows Chris to turn Act Two into seamless telling of a magical story. Rags to riches and humbleness to royalty.
Laura Baldwin is hot property – fresh out of the award-winning Eugenius and due to return to the West End in Waitress. Here as Cinders, Laura captures our hearts. Megan, Duchess of Sussex, has made royalty engagingly accessible. Laura, Princess of Devonshire, is out of the same mould. In rags, she is winsome and winning. In ball-gown and coronet, she is sparklingly regal. This is simply as perfect a Cinderella as you will ever see.
Katherine Glover’s Prince Charming has style, poise and assertive elegance. Their second act There For You duet is perfectly pitched and sensationally delivered. With canny casting, Danielle Haywood’s bright-eyed and confident Dandini is in similar mould to Katherine and an excellent foil. Graham James’ Baron Hardup is less bumbling and more human than sometimes portrayed, and the better for it.
Each piece of the production jigsaw slots in beautifully. Carl Greenwood’s breezy, upbeat band never allows the pace to flag. Paul Debreczeny and his stage team have created lovely sets, stunningly lit by Douglas Morgan, and the transformation scene is awesome. Shelley Claridge and her costumiers excel themselves, lavishly dressing the whole show.
Choreographer Emma Woods coaxes flair and energy from all her dancers. The Deborah Lamb youngsters take full part, while the professional ensemble are electric; take your own little bow, Sophia Amelia, Daisy Darvill, Jonni Gatenby and Mark Townsend!
Any reservations? Not really. At Tuesday’s press night, the early front-cloth scenes felt a bit drawn-out, but with 57 of the 64 shows still to run, that may well slicken up. Overall, the show feels just the right length. Cinderella is the stuff of dreams, and in this Cinderella, all those dreams comes true.
Tickets for Cinderella priced from £14.50 are still available for most performances; to book call the box office on 01323 412000 or online eastbournetheatres.co.uk. Cinderella is at the Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne, until January 13 2019.