It wouldn’t be Christmas without a good old pantomime, and Charles Court Opera returns to the King’s Head Theatre this festive season with Buttons: A Cinderella Story. But this is no ordinary Cinderella, and the company’s latest offering turns this classic tale on its head.
In this production Cinderella lives at home with her “Mumsy” Betty and beloved teddy bear Buttons, who secretly pines for her. She dreams of meeting a prince and having her own happy ending, but the reality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be when she encounters Prince Charming (who sadly doesn’t quite live up to his name) and his trusty sidekick Dandini. Elsewhere Betty has her eager sights set on PC Pumpkin, who’s busy trying to track down the Magic Menace murderer. And this time, rather than Cinderella’s wish being granted, Buttons is given his heart’s desire by a Marlon Brando-inspired puppet wielding a meatball-covered wooden spoon as his magic wand – his Fairy Godfather. Capisce?
Directed by John Savournin, Buttons: A Cinderella Story is almost two hours of mayhem and cheekiness, packed full of double entendres, enjoyable twists and laughs aplenty. While there are a few original tunes (courtesy of Musical Director David Eaton), more often than not the panto cleverly weaves in some classic hits with reworked lyrics, including the ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’, ‘Thriller’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, all to amusing effect (any panto which can successfully incorporate Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ has to be a winner!). These are all boosted from performances from the solid and enthusiastic cast.
Eleanor Sanderson-Nash is the perfect Cinderella with a beautiful, angelic voice, while Matthew Kellett is equally endearing as the loveable Buttons. Jennie Jacobs and Emily Cairns are both brilliant as Prince Charming and Dandini respectively and are responsible for one of the panto’s most hilarious moments: a slow-motion fight to the intro of ‘Eye of the Tiger’. It’s hard not to warm to PC Pumpkin (played by Catrine Kirkman on press night), and her mutual attraction to Betty produces plenty of laughs. And John Savournin (who shares the role with Jamie Barwood) steals the limelight as the saucy Betty, with his larger-than-life persona and wicked comic timing.
The show ticks all the boxes of a successful pantomime with a bright, colourful set designed by Louie Whitemore; Mia Wallden’s memorable costumes; dramatic lighting courtesy of Nicholas Holdridge and moments of audience participation too, notably during a chaotic Great British Bake-Off scene somewhat reminiscent of the Generation Game. Although this segment does drag a little, it also whips up (pun intended) the audience and also provides a clever take on Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies’, including the immortal line “if you bake it then you better put some cream in it!”
Buttons: A Cinderella Story is a fun, enjoyable production and a reminder that panto is the perfect Christmas treat. (Oh no it isn’t) Oh yes it is!
This review was originally written for Love London Love Culture. To read the original, click here.
Photo copyright Bill Knight