Pros: Good honest fun, with a one-size-fits-all approach to comedy.
Cons: The tropes that grate in a conventional panto are equally grating here (‘….hello boys and girls….’)
Cinderella and the Beanstalk, by Sleeping Trees, calls itself ‘the three-man family pantomime’. James, Joshua and John have written a pantomime, but forgotten to book the cast, and with an audience sitting expectantly, they have no choice but to perform it themselves. This is challenging, because the show features a vast number of characters from the pantomime hall of fame, as well as fairy tale and nursery rhyme. What they achieve, however, is an energetic and inventive performance in which, for example, John plays both ugly sisters, and Josh wears wings and a puppet and a cow onesie, to juggle playing the Fairy Godmother, Rumpelstiltskin and the cow.
Having read the blurb before the show, I was concerned that it might turn out to be a one-joke wonder, and that the novelty of three chaps running themselves ragged might wear off. I was wrong on both counts. The show has great variety, with physical comedy, funny songs, a brief rendition of the film Home Alone, and of course all the audience participation that you would expect in a panto. What’s more they manage to sustain the multiple character joke right to the end. The character changes speed up and reach fever pitch in the final scene, with each performer piling layer upon layer of costume. When Cinderella finally marries the prince, her veil is slung, skewiff, over the top of a Grand Vizier’s turban.
If the absence of a cast is the most obvious way that this panto differs from the norm, there is also a gaping hole where innuendo would usually be. This show, performed by an adult cast to an audience which, on the night I went was 90% adult, is delightfully innocent. The script operates at one level for everyone; there are no knowing asides for the grown-ups, or crass jokes for the kids, just silly humour that we all enjoyed. It was remarkable to see how enthusiastically the audience joined in, whether they were with children or not; the theatrical equivalent of adults being allowed a turn on the bouncy castle.
In keeping with other aspects of the show, the set is simple but versatile. There is a selection of large crates, which serve variously as prop storage boxes, steps, chairs, and a gro-bag for a beanstalk. This leaves just enough room, on the small stage, for the performers to throw themselves about, sword fight, and run from giants without risk of injury. Also on stage tucked into a corner, is the fourth man Mark the musician, who provides a perfect counterpoint to his colleagues. Whilst they are never still he sits placidly: playing parodies of songs from Frozen and Bugsy Malone; providing sound effects; occasionally looking alarmed; and finally, when the other three simply cannot take on any more characters, putting in a turn as the giant.
This is an affectionate and knowledgeable homage to the traditional pantomime. What could, so easily, have been the rehearsal room antics of a bunch of overgrown boys, is in fact well-judged, clever, and performed with impeccable timing. I took my favourite ten year old with me, and for the record she nagged me, all the way home, to give the show five stars. If there are in fact only four stars at the top of this page, it’s because mother always knows best.
Author: James Dunnell-Smith; Joshua George Smith; John Woodburn
Director: Tom Attenborough
Producer: Alice Carter
Booking Until: 10 January 2015
Box Office: 020 7978 7040
Booking Link: www.theatre503.com