Review: Cinderella, Unicorn Theatre

December 11, 2009

I was a little worried with attending two productions of Cinderella in less than 14 hours of each other. How different can the productions be against one of the most famous fairy-tales of all time?

You can imagine my surprise when I sat down in the Unicorn Theatre to witness a completely different telling of Cinderella to the pantomime I had experienced the night before. More to the point, what a pleasant surprise, a whole new adaptation! In this completely reworking of the classic tale, Phil Porter has re-imagined the world of Cinderella, changing places, characters and even the story line. This has to be one of the strongest parts of the performance, the way in which Porter captures the essence of the story, and reworking it into a modern portrayal.

Of course there is still the classic elements of the story in place, yet there are twists and turns to really jog you off course when watching the performance. Cinderella refuses the Princes love? The Fairy Godmother doesn’t exist? There is no pumpkin carriage? What the devil is going on?! The answer: a brilliant adaptation to keep you guessing the next twist in the story.

Amaka Okafor as Cinderella, behind Liam Lane as Prince Amjad

Cinderella opens with a powerful ensemble song setting the scene for the story. We’re aboard The Flying Cassandra, a slightly rusting boat that is the home of Cinderella and her father… of course not forgetting the old retired magicians. Cinderella helps to keep the boat afloat by making the porridge each morning for the retired folks, and keeping everything just right. So when her father announces he is to bring his new love abroad the boat along with her two daughters, things start to not quite go to plan.

Cinderella is played by Amaka Okafor, who gives a fantastic portrayal of this well known character. There is tenderness in her playing, and a sparkle in her eye during every scene that makes her arrival to the stage a pleasant experience every time. Okafor’s singing equally outdoes the rest of the cast, finding a softness and emotional connection with the lyrics and music composed by Martin Ward.

Mrs Mifflock, Mr Marakovic, and Mrs Peafendorf

There is comedy to be found in Cinderella with the three retired magicians, Mr Marakovic, Mrs Mifflock and Mrs Peafendor, the latter constantly referring to herself in third person. These three rather old, and zimmer-framed attached characters are the Fairy Godmothers of the story, producing small magic tricks to keep Cinderella amused and also busy. Yet their aid comes to hand later in the piece when they magic up a beautiful dress from an empty suitcase and shoes to match from a metal tray. Whilst these magic tricks are basic and have no need for the usual pyrotechnics often found in theatre these days – they proved successful in wow-ing the large group of children watching.

As Cinderella only features a cast of 8, there is a large amount of doubling up of characters, but you really would not notice at all. Julie Hewlett as Mrs Peafendorf, a dotty third speaking character quickly changes into an all pink tracksuit and hooped earings to become a rather chavy step-mother. The difference between the characters is superb, Hewlett shines as the Mrs Sheila Yarg, the nasty step-mother out to get the money. Equally Samantha Adams’ swift change from batty Mrs Mifflock complete with zimmer-frame to a much grander The Queen is brilliantly exercised.

I’m not always a fan of mutli-roling when it comes to cast members, but Tony Graham’s direction of the cast means that often you wouldn’t even recognise the cast playing completely opposite characters. With contrasting voices and physicalities, and not forgetting different wigs doesn’t make for a farce, but rather a slick transition between characters.

Ery Nzaramba and Julie Hewlett

Cinderella is of course famous for the Ugly-Sisters, and I have to say that despite my liking of Porters adaptation of the story and text, I wish that the characters of Miss Tixylix Yarg and Miss Monopoly Yarg (The Ugly-Sisters) were a bit more of the classic horrible, nasty and mean characters that we are use to. The two Miss’ Yarg’s are just a little bit tame for my liking, but luckily the costumes make up for this. With a hideous miss match of bright pinks and reds, the sight of John Cockerill and Ery Nzaramba is quite horrific to the eye!

Amazingly too, I actually felt rather sorry for Miss Tixylix Yarg, as Porter had written in a telling of how she is always picked on by the other Yarg’s, and goes to Cinderella to warn her of the tricks that are to be played upon her. It’s good to see Porter adapting the text to include morals and rather heart warming moments from Cockerill as Tixylix.

There is room for improvement in this production of Cinderella, but the potential that is already laid out is brilliant. There are surprises to be had along the way, including Gavin the seagull who whisks Cinderella away to fly her to the ball, and even later appears to attack Mrs Yarg by some rather realistic flying poo.

John Cockerill and Amaka Wickham

John Cockerill and Amaka Wickham

It’s a slight shame that some of the singing lacked power during the performances making some of the solo songs quite difficult to understand and hear. However, with the twists and turns of the storyline it makes an enjoyable morning at the theatre. With the nature of the adaptation, despite being aimed primarily at young children, Cinderella really is for all ages.

Cinderella at the Unicorn Theatre is not your usual fairy-tale story. The adaptation is bursting with imagination, and put together on the revolving stage by Russell Craig’s boat and palace design, it will certainly bring that much needed sparkle for children and adults alike this Christmas.

Running at the Unicorn Theatre until 24 January 2010, booking via the website


Review, Cinderella – Orchard Theatre

December 10, 2009

Cinderella at the Orchard Theatre

It’s that time of the year again where Panto’s are a festive treat at many theatres across the country, and The Orchard Theatre is no exception. Their lively and energetic version of Cinderella is sure to bring a smile to even the oldest of children (and let’s not forget those adults too).

I had recently been complaining about my lack of festival cheer for the start of December, and the inevitable build up to Christmas. The carols had started before Halloween, superstores were already rolling out their mince pies, and I was turning inwardly to become the next Scrouge. However, all was not lost, as I left The Orchard Theatre with a feeling of “get me a christmas tree, and some leg slapping panto – it’s nearly Christmas” feeling. (If that feeling is possible?) – I’ve been converted!

Every Panto has that of a ‘star’, a well known figure of entertainment to bring the audiences in, and to my delight, The Orchard have roped in Lesley Joseph as the Fairy Godmother. Best known for her TV appearances as Dorien Green, in the sitcom Birds of a Feather, Joseph dons her sparkling dress to bring a touch of magic to Cinderella.

The art of the Pantomime is a great British tradition spanning many years. We’ve managed to develop this unique blend of humour and spirit around the Christmas period with such ease, that going to the local Panto is often considered a must thing. Yet, for me, Pantomimes are so much more.

Offering the chance to readily comment upon the social standards and situations of the time, Pantomimes are a social comment upon the world, stuck in a fabulous frock and thrown together with glitter. Joseph’s disguise as Amy Winehouse during the ball scene and children dressed as John and Edward (Jedward) from X-Factor, couldn’t stress this enough. How on form with todays media trends.

This production of Cinderella is hilariously funny, aided greatly by Matt Slack as Buttons. His energetic and rambling off the script comments, even had his fellow actors laughing, as we as an audience hanging onto his every line. He surely fits the part of the comic fool.

Cinderella, of course wouldn’t be complete without two ugly-sisters, and they don’t come any uglier than Trinny and Susannah, played grotesquely by David Robbins and Martin Ramsdin. It is to be expected during pantomimes for lavish and outrageous costumes so hats off to Robbins and Ramsdin who actually make all of the ugly-sisters outfits themselves. From Christmas Puddings, to two foot high wigs – their return to the stage brought a treat to the eyes every time!

It’s odd to look back to my childhood and see the pantos in a distant haze in my memory. Yet one thing I am sure of is that they are miles behind the technology and use of stage trickery and design that was used in this Cinderella. None more so than in the beautiful flying horse and carriage that takes Cinderella to the ball. Despite knowing that they hadn’t strapped wings onto a real horse, (although tempting I’m sure..) I did have to do a double take as to if the horse was real. We’ve seen a boom in the use of puppetry recently in performances and it is wonderful to see then flying horse and carriage done in a moving puppet fashion.

Whilst some of the vocals aren’t particularly strong in some of the solo songs, the general atmosphere and excitement of Cinderella out does any musical aspect. With Laura Evans playing the part of Cinderella as soft and warming paired with the Prince Charming, they deliever the love story on form.

The Orchard Theatre have created an entertaining night for all the family, and it felt good to finally let off some steam by shouting madly “Oh yes we did” – how I’d love to shout out during some of the performances I’ve seen in the past year! If you’re slightly older than a child, fear not… there are plenty of aside rude jokes to keep you chuckling along.

Cinderella runs at the Orchard Theatre until 10th January 2010. Book online via their website.