If Stephen Fry wrote a pantomime it would be just like this.
Yes, it’s everything you would expect from the man: clever, knowledgeable, confident, amusingly pedantic, self-referential, gender-bending and very, very funny.
Oh and as it’s that terrible season again, turns out to be rather appropriately, as camp as Christmas.
And not at all aimed at children.
Just as well, as (a) the Whingers don’t like children and (b) there were precious few of them at the Old Vic last night to see Cinderella. In fact, when the time came to haul a couple of kiddies up onto the stage, it seemed like a minor miracle that they managed to find any.
In the event, they managed to secure a 10 year old and a 13 year old. There seemed to be no-one younger in the audience and it was probably just as well: the “business” they were called upon to take part in was handled by the show’s narrator Sandi Toksvig (left) who – in addition to sporting a moustache – lampooned the youngsters as remorselessly as she would an adult (“You have the knowing look of an estate agent”); anyone younger than 10 would probably have burst into tears. Now that the Whingers would pay double to see.
Mind you, it was a close thing. Last night was Toksvig ‘s first night back in the narrator’s (flying) chair following a chest infection which caused the press night to be postponed until tomorrow.
Even as the Whingers set off for the theatre they didn’t even know if the diminutive Dane would be back; they feared not. Andrew took it as something to do with karma. Perhaps if the Whingers didn’t approach Christmas with such Grinch-like dispositions (they make Scrooge look like Pollyanna) they might not be unwittingly spreading their curse on seasonal theatre (having, you will recall, already attended the Hodge(less)-podge of La Cage Aux Folles at the Menier).
For Phil, Toksvig’s illness was merely further proof that south of the river lies nothing but disease, the inevitable result of under-privileged people’s casual approach to hygiene.
Anyway, Toksvig was a real trouper and dragged herself in (apparently she is still not right).
Now, our main advice is not to read the reviews because they are bound to contain some spoilers regarding Fry’s remix of the Cinderella story. Although there is nothing the Whingers enjoy more than spoiling the fun of others, on this occasion they feel bound to allow you, dear reader, to be as delighted as they were.
So we shall just make some very general observations.
Firstly, the combination of Fry and Toksvig is utterly compelling.
Secondly, it has most of the the components of the traditional panto such as kids on the stage and an audience singalong, although the slapstick scene does need beefing up with something more threatening than a dab of shaving foam on paper plates.
Thirdly, the cast is great. Surely never before have so many people from Midsomer Murders appeared on stage together. It may not sound much, but this is surely a step up from the customary “Casualty, The Bill” in the biogs.
Paul Keating (right, Seymour in the Menier’s Little Shop of Horrors) plays Buttons with aplomb and gets a well-deserved round of applause for flawlessly delivering a very long shopping list cruelly written in by Fry.
Particularly pleasing was the casting of Madeleine Worrall as Cinderella (right with Prince Charming, Joseph Millson, also excellent), traditionally an insipid role played by an insipid actress in an insipid manner but here written and played with spunk and humour.
Nor should the Whingers pass over Dandini who merits a mention for his name alone: Oliver Chopping (by the way, search for him on Google if you are looking for a Jamie Oliver chopping board). It takes a brave man to appear in his underpants with a six pack painted on his stomach (as Phil can testify).
But the big surprise of the night was Pauline Collins OBE as the Fairy Godmother. Collins is, of course, a terrific actress and great at comedy, but who knew she could steal every scene playing a character not unlike Catherine Tate’s Gran.
The music (by Oscar winner Anne Dudley) and songs are marvellous (although there are some sound problems which make it difficult to make out the words) and the choreography (Francesca Jaynes) sparkles. Full marks to director Fiona Laird for pulling all the talent in the same direction.
Did we mention that we enjoyed it all? It reminded Andrew of the ““This is like children’s theatre for 40 year old gay people” line in Xanadu and we just can’t imagine how it will go down with the kids. Although they might appreciate the singing mice, most of this stuff is going to go way over their heads (“According to Plato, happiness is contingent on virtues” “We love Tesco; it keeps the riff raff out of Waitrose”). This is unashamedly panto for adults and the Whingers hope it catches on so that pantos of the future can become child-free zones. Then, and only then, will be we truly happy.
Wider Discourse Notes
- The woman in the coatcheck was very helpful offering to put Andrew’s bag and coat in the same place and charging him only for one item. Andrew hopes he hasn’t got her into trouble by revealing this act of kindness.
- The price of Old Vic programmes has crept up to £4.
- Toksvig has been very prolific of late, perhaps contributing to her ill health. She’s written a piece about her acting experience here and a panto diary here.
- Apparently, Stephen Fry hasn’t actually seen the show yet.
- An ad-libbed gag about the absence of Kevin Spacey from proceedings had to be dropped after its first appearance because it turned out afterwards that Kev was in the audience.
After the show, the Whingers caught up with Paul Keating (left) to pull his Buttons apart. Actually, that’s not true, but it’s one of the few double entendres not employed by Mr Fry in Cinderella so we thought we would use it.
Paul looked startled when Andrew kissed him on the cheeks (add your own double entendre here) but he recovered his composure sufficiently to listen patiently to Phil’s ramblings.
Actually, the Whingers were very complimentary although they did feel compelled to pull Keating up on the fact that when Buttons loses one of his buttons his uniform still features all the buttons. This, they felt, utterly destroyed the suspension of disbelief they had established and was – at the very least – a serious contravention of the psychological contract between production and audience which betrayed the trust extended by the party of the second part on the party of the first part.
Phil’s earliest memory was of a trip to the panto. No, not as Andrew insists the Commedia dell’arte of the Italian middle ages, but a trip to see Sandy (Can You Hear Me, Mother?) Powell as the dame at the Theatre Royal Bath. The panto was Little Miss Muffet (due for a revival surely?) or Goldilocks and the Three Bears, his memory is fading fast, but was reminded recently, by his (much sharper) mother that the colour of one of the costume fabrics in the show made a huge impression on him and “wouldn’t shut up talking about it”. Now who’d have thought that?
Andrew’s earliest memory of a panto was seeing a production of Babes in the Wood at the Malvern Festival Theatre which opened with the chorus singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning”. He remembers nothing else. His second panto memory is seeing Carry On star Kenneth Connor playing Buttons, probably at Birmingham. Disappointingly, Andrew recalls nothing of the fabrics which featured in either production.