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Review: Cinderella at South Hill Park

Does Cinders get to the ball? Does the prince get his girl? Is this a traditional panto? Yes and, er, no. South Hill Park's modern panto twist is pure joy.

South Hill Park Bracknell Cinderella

Panto is back, baby – and South Hill Park’s modern take on the traditional Cinderella is pure joy. As pantos go, it’s probably the best known and most popular in the world, so you know the drill. A rags to riches tale of a sweet girl, bullied by her evil step mother and vile sisters, meets handsome boy. With the help of her Fairy Godmother she gets the guy and lives happily ever after… well sort of.

Ben Ayiotis as Buttons Cinderella South Hill Park
Michael Ayiotis as Buttons

Joyce Branagh’s script makes a few subtle changes that gives this familiar fairytale a fresher perspective. The production is set at HardUp Hotel run by Buttons (Michael Ayiotis, who also plays King Charming) and Cinders (Faye Ellen), but resembles a posh care home as the junior ensemble cast (who are brilliant, BTW) play the guests who all doddering old biddies, lining up for their meals and medication. They also appear in lots of scenes adding some brilliant comedic moments and depth to the storytelling.

From left: Cinders (Faye Ellen), Joy Less (Paul Toulson), Ruth Less (Jacqueline Tate) and Grace Less (Beth Bradley)

You’ll also find the traditional dame absent from this production. Ugly sister Joy Less played by the fabulous Paul Toulson comes from the school of RuPaul’s Drag Race rather than Christopher Biggins traditional dame. Completing this gruesome threesome is mum Ruth Less (Jacqueline Tate, who also plays the Fairy Godmother) and Grace Less (Beth Bradley) – played like a trailer trash copy of the Kardashians. Their Simply the Less (a parody of Tina Turner’s Simply The Best) routine and the hilarious Big Spender skit with poor Dave from the audience were highlights of the show. I loved them.

Cinderella South Hill Park Prince Charming and Cinderella
Ben Featherstone as Prince Charming and Faye Ellen as Cinders

The magic of this show lies in the singing, dancing and comic timing. I was concerned a young cast would lack the oomph a panto needs to engage audiences night after night. But it’s their youthful energy and Strictly style group numbers that make this show great – a job well done by choreographer Charlotte Steele. In fact there are many brilliantly choreographed moments from the ‘wall routine’ where the Cinders, Grace and Joy Less fight over the Prince (genius) to the clever black and white costumes for I Like To Move It. It’s a high-kicking optical illusion that’ll leave you thinking you shouldn’t have had that Shiraz in the interval.

Cinderella South Hill Park Old people ensemble

Prince Charming, played by the chiselled Ben Featherstone and Cinders have the right amount of schmaltz and sass. But for me the star of show is Michael Ayiotis who was funny, charming and just cheesy enough as Buttons and played the mad monarch King Charming to perfection. But this is very much a team effort – main cast, ensemble and the creative professionals have worked their socks off. If you don’t leave with a smile on your face, you’ll be getting coal for Christmas.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Families! There’s plenty here to entertain littlies and adults and the reworked pop hits get your singing and swaying alon.

Not for: Children who might easily be overwhelmed by loud sounds, or won’t last the 2hr+ run time.

South Hill Park, Ringmead, Bracknell RG12 7PA

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