I’ll admit; I’m not the biggest Panto fan, but when the opportunity came up to see this year’s festive offering at The Bristol Hippodrome I couldn’t turn it down as I’ve read such great things about previous years performances. For 2018, the theatre plays host to the fairy godmother of all Pantomimes, Cinderella. I took a good friend with me and we both brought our 6-year-old daughters who were so excited at the prospect of it all they simply could not sit still in their seats!
The Bristol Hippodrome always pulls the famous faces to draw in the crowds, and this year is no exception. Comedian and much loved entertainer Brian Conley is the lynchpin of the show as Cinderella’s faithful servant Buttons, with Gok Wan taking on the role of The Fairy Gokmother and ensuring that the whole thing really is as camp as Christmas, something every good panto should be. Both of them are reprising the roles they have performed together before and it is not difficult to see why they’ve been asked to come back for more. The chemistry between them is clear; they both look like they are having a brilliant time and are often giggling like a pair of schoolboys. Cinderella is charmingly sweet and played by Lauren Hall, and Scott Mobley solidly plays Prince Charming. The real scene-stealers and stars of the show though are Ben Stock and Neal Wright as the Ugly Sisters Tess and Claudia. Panto dames are always the best bit for me unless they don’t quite hit the mark but this pair got the bullseye with their fabulously over the top costumes, wigs and attitude.
I can’t say that the show was perfect. Ironically for a non panto lover, I felt the show was rather lacking in all the clichéd aspects of this type of performance. There were not enough ‘He’s behind you!’ cries, only one right at the end in fact, and no shouts of ‘Oh no he didn’t!’ I usually roll my eyes at these well-worn phrases, but strangely found myself missing them. Some of the scenes like the X-factor skit seemed a bit superfluous. However, in terms of entertaining the target audience, the company was spot on. Plenty of fart jokes, up to date music and a glitzy and polished feel.
The thing that struck me the most about this show was the lavish production values throughout. The whole thing was incredibly beautiful to look at, the costumes were bright and vibrant and the special effects were spectacular. I won’t spoil it too much for you, but I will just say that the coach and horses Cinderella took to the ball at the end of act one made pretty much all the children in the audience gasp in disbelief, and many of the adults too. As the lights went up, my daughter looked at me and said ‘I cannot believe they used REAL MAGIC in the panto!’. I was reminded of a conversation I had with a friend before heading out for the evening. He told me that he had once played the part of a villain in a panto (news to me; I won’t say where, which character and when at the risk of giving away my friends identity!) but he made a comment, which stuck with me. After making a small child cry with his rather too villainous interpretation of the character, it occurred to him that the point of panto is that really small children genuinely believe its real. Last night, I definitely saw that in my daughters wide eyed wonder and exuberant delight at it all. This was the first year where I really ‘got’ the panto, and it was all down to her beautiful reaction to it all. If I’d been reviewing on my own, I would have felt this show to be simply ‘OK’. Experiencing it through my daughter’s eyes made it truly magical.
Cinderella is on until 6th Jan 2019 at Bristol Hippodrome
Review by Karen Blake