The latest presentation of the pantomime, Cinderella at Newport’s Riverfront Theatre, the fourth in the Riverfront’s 15-year history, may have a fresh look and feel in presentation and performance, but maintains the high-standards set in production, presentation and feelgood fun of previous outings.
Written and directed by Richard Gauntlet, this year’s adaptation brings Prince Charming to the seaside town of Newport Bay and the grand setting of the Hard-up Hotel run by Baron Hard-up, his daughter Cinderella and of course, Buttons. In disguise, Prince Charming is revisiting old haunts from his childhood, while looking for the girl of his dreams. Charming is blissfully unaware he is been guided by a Fairy Godmother, as he does his best to avoid the clutches of the undesirable sisters Candy and Flossie!
Cinderella’s fast-paced delivery takes in a wealth of fun characters, comical costumes and hilarious scenarios, all guaranteed to maximise laughter and audience participation. There’s also a constant stream of popular and familiar songs adapted for the show, with the Vaudevillian hit, The Sun Has Got His Hat On mashed up with 5ive’s Keep on Moving setting the scene for seaside frolics. There’s also a chorus of mice joining the vocal fun for an adaptation of A Mouse in Newport Bay (A Windmill in Amsterdam).
There’s also a variety of strong choreography which comes to the fore at Prince Charming’s masked ball, with a mesmerising presentation of the Jonas Brothers’ Sucker and the hilarious debut of the Newport “Near Enough” ballet performed by Buttons, Candy and Flossie.
The cast itself combines fresh talent with several returning established favourites. Among the new faces is an all-singing and dancing portrayal of Cinderella, performed by the wonderful Laura Meaton. I really enjoyed Miss Meaton in the lead role as she clearly ticks the boxes of delivering as actress, singer and dancer while creating a sense of wonderment from younger members of the audience as her rags to riches story unfolds. Miss Meaton also leads some wonderful ensemble choreographed duets along with her Prince Charming, Gareth Tempest on Happy and Haven’t Met You Yet.
Gareth Tempest, fresh from success in London’s West-End in The Bank Robbery That Goes Wrong brings plenty of dash and romance with his portrayal of Prince Charming. Although absent from the Riverfront panto for a few years, Tempest clearly hasn’t lost any of his magic as he leads Koda Holland Smith’s Dandini along with dancers, Huon Mackley, Christopher Edward and Luke Samuel with a classy microphone choreographed boy band performance of George Ezra’s Paradise.
Another welcome return is actor Keiron Self, who recently entertained audiences in Black Rat productions tour of ART.. Here, Self endears the audience by displaying sentimentality as he sings Grow Old with Me to Laura Meaton’s Cinders. The real comedy high point of the production are his energetic attempts to get into the locked Hard-up Hotel as he battles the wet weather, while Cinders sings On My Own seemingly unaware of her co-stars-soaked scenario. Imagine Morecambe and Wise’s Singing in the Rain sketch performed with the slapstick delivery of Norman Wisdom and you will be close to the comic spectacle on show here!
Further comedy is on offer with the undesirable sisters, Candy, played by the ever-versatile Richard Elis (whose gamut of Riverfront appearances is becoming a rich who’s who of panto-land characters) and Flossie by Geraint Rhys Edwards. This gruesome twosome are clearly the meanest sisters in town as they rob Buttons of his ice cream and steal Cinders chance of going to the ball. There are laughs too as Keiron Self’s Buttons and Michael Geary’s Baron Hard-up effectively mirror the sister’s actions to a fitness routine for a further comedy skit in the second half.
The brilliant Michael Geary returns to The Riverfront following last year’s panto, Sleeping Beauty and a recent appearance in Theatr Clwyd’s Pavilion for some panto-shenanigans with a pompous but comical portrayal of Baron Hard-Up. Also giving strong support is Rachel Waring as the bubbly and go-for-it Fairy Godmother who is fun to watch as she accepts a “Mission Impossible” (listen out for a vocal guest appearance from another Riverfront panto favourite, Lee Mengo) to unite the romantic leads by getting Cinders to the ball, but not before stealing the first half climax with a magical vocal rendition of One Night Only.
Special mention must also go to the ensemble dancers including the young company of pumpkins and Mice that with Angela Sheppard’s choreography have added much in the way of freshness and fun. They are all an icing on the cake of this already lavish production!
A resounding “Oh yes, it is!” on every level of top-quality production and performance, the cheers and interaction from the audience only confirmed further that the annual Riverfront Pantomime is still one of the must-see treats in South Wales over the festive season!
Cinderella continues its run at Newport’s Riverfront Theatre until Saturday January 4, 2020.