Be prepared to party on down with the Polka Theatre’s first Christmas show since their amazing relaunch. Written and directed by Sarah Punshon, Cinderella the Awesome Truth! is a high energy musical with lots of fun, laughter and participation; everything you might want from a family Christmas show. The traditional tale is brought bang up to date with a technological twist, offering joyful empowerment to an audience of confident kids.
Cindy (Jade Lauren) and Ella (Tiajna Amayo) are stepsisters, both are quite different and don’t really get along. Cindy likes to dress up and wants to be rich and famous, while Ella is more interested in boxing and parkour. One is skinny, the other rounder, which leads to a row over body shaming. The two make friends with a weedy but rather adorable Prince Charming called Francis (James Keningale) and the friendly palace cook Dandini (LJ Parkinson) who invite them to attend a party at the palace. But when creepy social media fairy godmothers try to use their negativity against them, they must all work together with a squirrel friend to break the curse and find their own awesomeness. The message might sound a bit worthy on paper, but it’s a sound base for a really upbeat, totally enjoyable show.
This is a fantastic ensemble cast who clearly enjoy the performance. The talented foursome sing, dance and dexterously handle multiple puppets. Amayo is massively likeable as Ella, bringing both endearing vulnerability and then awesome confidence to the role. Likewise, Lauren is fab as Cindy, happy to play totally daft, but also demonstrating that even traditionally ‘girly’ girls can be empowered. Keningale’s prince is wonderfully wet: he is such a sensitive bunny you just want to hug him. And he wears those platform shoes so very well! However, the standout performer has to be Parkinson as Dandini: confident, dynamic and utterly hilarious – they are amazing! It’s fab to see a non-binary actor beautifully redefining a traditional role, in a production that itself blurs the line between classic panto and modern Christmas show. This is not panto dame drag or principal boy cross-dressing: it’s a refreshingly authentic and visible representation of a valid part of the community. They excel in the live interaction with the audience, building a palpably warm bond and encouraging the kids to enthusiastically contribute to the storyline.
Oliver Townsend’s excellent set design appears simple but proves enormously flexible for defining the many settings portrayed, and it’s enhanced further by Gillian Tan’s imaginative lighting and video projections. Meanwhile, with music and lyrics by Felix Hagan of band The Family fame, there are some terrific catchy songs here, which really fix in your head, briskly propelling the narrative along. 24 hours later I am still at ‘The Best Party Ever’, dreaming of a Colin the Caterpillar the size of a bus! Again, the cast really deliver in the songs with impressive exuberance.
An interesting feature of this production is that it embraces research results from interviews with over 200 children, asking them what a contemporary Cinders and Prince Charming might be like, and what messages would be important to the traditional story today. The show therefore sends out a positive, enabling encouragement to be kind, affirming that how you look doesn’t matter, and it does so through fun, laughter and joyful interaction. By the end of the evening the audience were raising the roof, even the smallest visitors excitedly joining in with the callouts, standing up and clapping along. We knew that, like Ella and her friends, we’re all awesome too!
Written and directed by: Sarah Punshon
Co-created by Toni-Dee Paul
Music and lyrics by: Felix Hagan
Designed by: Oliver Townsend
Puppet Designs by: Judith Hope and Chris Gadd
Movement Direction by: Jreena Green
Video & Lighting Design by: Gillian Tan
Produced by Polka Theatre and One Tenth Human
Cinderella the AWESOME Truth! plays at Polka Theatre until 30 January 2022. Some dates will be reduced capacity, relaxed, audio-described, signed and captioned shows. Full details and booking via the below link.