NODA Review BATS Cinderella 2018

NODA review of Biggleswade Amateur Theatre Society (BATS) ‘Cinderella’
Friday 2nd February – 2018 – 7:30pm
Stratton Upper School
Review by Leigh Smith

It was a nice return to Stratton Upper School for me as the last time I was there; I was nervously waiting in the wings to give my A‐level Music performance many years ago. The hall has an excellent proscenium arch stage and large auditorium area which for any company, must be hard to fill to capacity.

BATS create a high energy atmosphere in the auditorium upon the house being opened, with current ‘pop’ music playing over an excellent sound system. It certainly gets the kids and oldies alike pumped up and ready for the frolics of ‘pantoland’.

I always read the directors notes before a performance and seeing that the director’s chair was taken up by BATS stalwart Kay Young who was notching up her 10th panto directors credit with BATS – I felt sure that I was in safe hand and in for a good night.

Fairy Godmother (Maxine Connolly) kicks the show off with a band of fairy underlings who were all excellent in their individual line delivery and reacting to what was being said. Connnolly very much looked the part with an excellent costume and glitter seeming coming out of every pore which did look magical. I did struggle sometimes with her dialogue in terms of pace and would have liked to have heard more dynamic in her lines. That said, she had a lovely singing voice and suited her song

Cinderella was played by Emily Hewish. Miss Hewish approached the role in a very understated way which at first, I wasn’t sure of. However, as we continued along her story, it was actually a very lovely portrayal of the girl in rags, downtrodden with a heart of gold that is very unassuming. I particularly loved the scene with Buttons as he tries to bring the ball to Hardup Hall’s Kitchen. Emily showed grace and a emotional maturity which actually promoted the message that we don’t always get what we want and to be happy in life with what we have. Not the typical panto message, but it’s what hit me. Of course you have to also have someone who can transform from said girl in rags to beautiful princess and Emily certainly was the girl for the job. Well Done.

Buttons was perfectly played by 17 year old Max Gill who has West End theatre credits to his name which showed in abundance. This young man was confident, clear and completely believable in his love for Cinders. The moment Cinderella drops the bombshell that she really does love him….. ‘like a brother’ was comedy gold in his reaction and this was very much the tone he set for his whole performance. He had a fine singing voice taking the lead on the final number which is no easy task
singing a Queen number.
Prince Charming and Dandini played by Louise Connolly and Katy Gardiner respectively worked well as a pairing and you really felt that Charming knew he could rely on Dandini and that Dandini was his loyal aide and had his back so to speak.

Both looked the part and held the stage as they should. Sadly the sound gremlins were also having fun the night we came and Charming’s microphone was often
‘in and out’ making it hard to hear at times. What did strike me about the two ladies was just how perfect for pantomime they are. Connolly’s poise and grace was effortless and Gardiners smile is simply infectious. Even when not delivering lines, the art of re‐acting is not lost on these two who were excellent at it.

Enter the Ugly Sisters. Hyacinth and Lowercinth played by the returning Gareth Griffiths and quite possibly the youngest dame I have ever seen at 18 years, Ollie Elkin. Both of these experienced performers brought energy, comedy and colour to the stage with excellent costumes, wigs and sharp delivery of lines which kept the pace up when they were on stage.

What I would say is when playing such roles that are larger and louder than life, you must find the balance of just how much to put in to the mix which for the most part, these two did perfectly. There was just one or two moments when the staged chaos became reality when it was hard to follow where we should be. However, with that said, I do want to congratulate them both on their partnership. They were really fun to watch.

The Baron Chris Hall was suitably cast both in physicality and nature. He had the perfect spoken voice for the kindly father to Cinders and his warmth really came across. I did feel nervous for him however as I wasn’t sure he was overly secure in some of his lines but with a seasoned performer comes the ability to carry on
and pull things back round, which in panto is doable and some would argue integral to a good night out.

The Baroness played by Denice Watson had the perfect physicality for this part. She was suitably acid tongued and when scripted to be prickly and razor sharp delivered. However, what I would have like to have seen, was more ad‐libbed interaction with the audience telling them to shut up, be quiet etc when she entered the stage being booed. I am completely sure Denice could have pulled it off as mentioned above, nailed it within the confines of the script. I didn’t quite understand the makeup on
this character as she should have been a beautiful villain – think Cruella Deville as opposed to being to like the ugly sisters.

Rough and Ready – a right couple of Bankers……… BANKERS! were played by Kara Morallee and Charlotte Jakes. Stalwarts to BATS, they are no stranger to panto I’m sure and they certainly had the audience chuckling away. I liked their performance and if I could offer some constructive criticism, it is to not be afraid to stand still. When delivering jokes – which is all about timing, standing still to make it all about the punchline is imperative. I liked their chemistry though and the back and forth money scams were excellently done.

Madamme Olga was played by Kerry Hewish. Her portrayal of her character reminded me of Madamme Giry from Phantom Of The Opera. The stern dance mistress striking fear with the bang of her staff. I particularly like her infatuation of Anton Du Beke – very funny.

I must mention the group of Ballet dancers from Hitchin & Sandy Dance Academy, both the younger group and older group. So lovely to see and for some, what a great introduction to theatre. I must say how impressed I was with the point work from the older ballet girls – simply stunning. I loved it.

It’s also worth mentioning the dancing of the youngster in this production. BATS are very fortunate to have these young members and the moves these youngsters were busting out in their standalone sections in numbers were great. From double synchronised backflips across the stage to crabs and flips in to splits – these youngsters were excellent. Well done indeed.

My stand out performer without a shadow of a doubt was Lucas Wilcox. As Major Domo but more impressively as the Herald, this young man proved the he knows comedy. He was confident, bright, funny and simply perfect in his portrayal. I am very interested to know where this young man is performing next as I would like to see him in something other than a pantomime. He nailed the physical comedy, the audible comedy and was focused throughout. Well done young man.

As I said at the beginning of this review, I started the evening confident that I was in for a good night’s entertainment, and for the most part I was. However, there were a few things that sprung to mind after I left the venue that I though was a shame and would have made a good production a great production.

When you undertake a panto, it’s a given that there is a certain amount of ‘traditional business’ that simply has to happen. It’s formulaic and been handed down from production to production over the many years pantomime has been performed. I felt there were missed opportunities. For instance – it was relatively light on audience engagement – there could have been more ‘rehearsed ad-libs’ with the audience to get them going etc. I felt that maybe the position of the audience played a part in this as we were set quite far back as there was a kiddies area in the front with soft mats for them to sit.

I was also surprised that there was no community song. I understand that this may have been substituted for the excellent snowball fight between the split audience (which is a great idea and thoroughly enjoyed by all, in fact I think the adults got more into it than the kids!) but in my opinion a panto audience all love a sing song! Its the ideal time to get kids up on stage and make it really special for them to be under the lights etc. Perhaps the snowball fight could have been finished with community sing of a classic like ‘Let Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow’ for example.

I also note from the programme there was no Musical Director credited. Perhaps going forward, appoint someone to focus purely on the music and ensure that everyone is supported and confident in what they are doing and add a little vocal colour by way of simply but effective harmonies.

Lighting and sound were under the capable hands of Dave and Kate Malby. Lighting was simple but effective and in terms of the sound as I said above, unfortunately the crew was clearly struggling with gremlins which can happen to the best of them. However, those trouble aside it was good quality sound although the backing tracks could be louder to give more impact and energy to both cast and audience.

Stage Manager Melanie Wilcox and crew ensured good scene changes in a timely and efficient manner and never held the show up. The back cloths and set as a whole – completely fabricated and painted by Melanie Wilcox, Maxine Connolly, Jennie Martin, Lisa Beckett and Rusty were charming and well done.

Costumes by Natasha Leftwich were good and appropriate however I was slightly disappointed with Buttons’ costume, or more specifically the bottom half of his costume. To have the top half in full Buttons regalia to the bottom half of black skinny jeans and trainers was a little remiss in my opinion, especially when every other character was in full head to toe appropriate costume.

Makeup led by Judith Wakeling was colourful and well done.

Although I offer some form of constructive criticism at the end of this review, it was still an excellent effort from everyone involved. BATS as a group I feel, are a real inclusive community who outside of panto are open to trying new things and am confident this criticism is met in the spirit it is given ‐ in that we always want to strive to do the best we can.

Subsequently, I had chatted to director Kay Young and she had explained to me she had been quiet the busy bee with this production wearing many different hats and you really should be congratulated along with the team for what you achieved.

Ultimately, the measure of any show is the reaction of the audience and certainly on the night I went they were thoroughly enjoying themselves.