Actor LJ Parkinson on Cinderella: The Awesome Truth!
There are some fantastic festivities at the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon this Christmas, with Cinderella: The Awesome Truth! taking to the stage. It’s a twist on the traditional Cinderella story that brings it bang up to date with loads of songs, laughs and a message of kindness. We chatted with LJ Parkinson who plays Dandini to find out a bit more about the show.
So LJ, there’s some serious partying going on at the palace just now. Do you think you and the rest of the cast can take the pace? How have the audiences been responding to Cinderella?
The audience response has been fantastic! It’s funny you should mention about the pace because I am currently performing the show from a wheelchair as I am injured, but the show hasn’t lost one moment of its momentum or sass… it’s opened up new dynamics between us all and though I found it very difficult at first I’ve found my way through the challenge.
This is not a traditional version of the story, is it? What makes it so different, and what is your role in the show?
No, it’s not a traditional version of the story, we felt that the traditional story wasn’t inclusive and doesn’t present healthy views on beauty and self-esteem and that’s what we set out to rectify. So many families are multi-cultural, and representation and diversity is really important to us all here so it’s vital we tell these stories. We explore many themes in this play including gender identity, fat phobia, social media pressures and platonic friendships, which equip the audience with stronger tools to navigate this modern society that tells you that you have to be a certain way or you’re ugly … we took ugly and made it about being uniquely glorious and loud and proud !
There are some cracking songs in the production, any favourites?
So my favourite song is “Because You’re Awesome” and is the duet between Cindy and Ella. Their voices are so beautiful and to see the friends go on this challenging journey to sisterhood is a really hopeful message that when families merge together that can overcome it and nothing will be lost: in fact you can gain a sister and become an unbeatable force!
One of the things that works really well in the show is the audience interaction. What’s the funniest or weirdest thing the kids have shouted out to you?
So in the top of Act Two I come out on stage and have a chat with the children about using our imaginations to build the party for Prince Francis. At one point I ask what music we were listening to and one small child shouted “Chopin!” This was for certain the highlight of my entire career – I think it turned out we were listening to Chopin, eating chocolate sausage rolls and sushi decorated the entire palace. Classic!
It’s brilliant to see a non-binary actor like yourself taking on such a traditional pantomime role and totally redefining it, whilst just being your authentic, hilarious self. Do you think this normalising approach might encourage new audiences, who will see themselves represented in what you do?
I think it’s so important to introduce actors and characters that are from all walks of life whether it’s gender identity race or disability or non-conventional families. In the news they tend to focus on issues like bathrooms and JK Rowling. Whilst those things are important for some people, I am more focussed in carving out a path to experience the world in full colour and allowing my authentic self to thrive without prejudice and encourage others to do so too. By having a non-binary character in a kids show, we are showing people from a young age before the world has told them there’s something wrong with being different from the heteronormative, that we exist and actually we are a lot of fun and that is nothing to be ashamed of.
Another interesting member of the cast is Sass. Have you ever worked with a squirrel before, and are you likely to do it again?
I have never worked with a squirrel before but I have heard on the grapevine that there are a couple of agencies trying to put Sass on their books so I’m sure we’ll see Sass on the West End very soon! I hope they put in a good word for me.
As you’re playing Dandini, the palace chef, will you be cooking Christmas lunch this year, and will there be sausage rolls?
I absolutely will be cooking Christmas lunch this year for all the cast including Sass so I will have to put in a nut roast!! I’ll be dazzling them with my special Yorkshire puddings and the best beef dripping roast potatoes… although my special cheese soufflés and chocolate sausage rolls are also going on the menu… It’s going to be the best Xmas ever!!!
Many thanks to LJ for taking the time to chat with us. You can enjoy Cinderella: The Awesome Truth! at the Polka Theatre until January 30. Further information and tickets at the link below.