Gaiety Theatre, Dublin ****
How can you preserve the best elements of a story that’s as old as civilisation, while also making it relevant to the here and now? Or, to put it another way, will a fairy tale about a horribly mistreated young woman who finds her Prince Charming with the assistance of a Fairy Godmother and an impractical pair of shoes still leave room for Katie Taylor references and a high-energy K-Pop parody?
These are questions that the Gaiety Panto has been answering for well over a century, but the answer – which is to be reassuringly traditional without ever getting rusty – involves a lot of intelligence and more than a dab of magic. It also requires money, which is where it makes one compromise too far. But first the villain Dandini appears (boo!), played by Daryn Crosbie – who directs, choreographs and has the monopoly on the world’s supply of fun – to explain the plot.
Stephanie McKeon’s ethereal and honey-voiced Cinderella is the daughter of the moithered Baron Stonybroke (Pat Nolan) and indentured servant to her ugly step sisters Janice (Garry Mountaine) and Edwina (Joe Conlon) – collectively known as Jedwina (boo!) – who have a fashion sense more garish than an early John Waters movie.
Cinderella’s other assistants are Buttons (a charming Johnny Ward) – who balances unrequited love (awww!) with a demotic call-and-response catchphrase, “Ah, here!”/“Leave it out!” – and Sharon Sexton’s Fairy Godmother-in-training. There is another appearance by a promotional mascot, an anthropomorphic potato, which goes beyond the limits of sponsor intrusion. As Buttons would say, Ah, here! Otherwise, the show knows precisely what an audience wants: a spectacle that fills the stage with pop-up-book illustrations and leaping, comely dancers; a lightly witty script by Maeve Ingoldsby, with a judicious balance between acid and treacle; and a series of completely shameless lifts from re-worded top-40 songs to the wholesale larceny of/affectionate tribute to Bob Fosse dance routines.
This blend of old and new, original and borrowed, comes together with the iridescent sheen of consummate professionalism and oceans of goodwill. It’s still gratifying to see that a family audience doesn’t blink an eye at tricks that will leave people cold in alternative theatre: self-reference, audience participation, rewritten classics.
There’s a difference, of course, with Christmas expectations of fun and games, and while the Gaiety invests inspiration and perspiration in such hard-won, cheering entertainment, it knows the audience is willing it to succeed. In the ageless tradition of panto, they’re behind you.
Until January 13th