Cinderella review: Like being slapped in the face by a rainbow

Plus our reviews of all the best Christmas pantos – and the ones to avoid


Pantodome, Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin
Pantomime is a pleasing contradiction, a form of performance that is as old as the hills that has to feel as fresh as the moment. Relocating to a big top – the Pantodome – at Royal Hospital Kilmainham, in Dublin, this production is not going to mess with the structure (it even re-creates an ornate proscenium arch – but Karl Broderick is restlessly inventive in his writing, matching the Grimm brothers with the giddy novelty of streaming pop charts, Instagram likes, Netflix must-sees and a wicked stepmother whose threats ring with modern terror: "No wifi?" shrieks the ugly stepsister Buffy (Rob Murphy) "We'd be living like animals."

Murphy, as Buffy, is tonight’s cohost, alongside Alan Hughes, a champion smiler, whose Sammy Sausages hastens along the plot, audience interaction and tart put-downs like a benign traffic warden. Buffy’s job is to be a lustful parody of overripe femininity, with a licence to go fantastically rogue. Sizing up one dad in the audience, she lasciviously offers him “Tea? Coffee? A suggestive biscuit?” That’s panto in a nutshell: a confection for the kids with some edge for the adults, and enough liberating pleasure for everyone.

Check out the professionalism of the dancers, both adults and children, a riot of windmilling limbs and power poses, under Paul Ryder's indefatigable choreography

Check out the professionalism of the dancers, both adults and children, a riot of windmilling limbs and power poses, under Paul Ryder’s indefatigable choreography. Check out Ryder himself, as Sparkle, Prince Charming’s attendant, in vertiginous high heels and shrink-wrapped in gold lamé, jousting knowingly with Buffy. When I say that their costumes are dazzling I mean it feels like being slapped in the face by a rainbow.

There are so many wild identities here for the boys that it’s a shame girls won’t see themselves as anything other than models of classic femininity: Michele McGrath’s nicely vampish wicked stepmother, Jenny Dixon’s klutzy-cute fairy godmother, even Keila Ana Whelan’s fetching belter Cinderella (who, given the title role, but a straight one, is sadly left off the poster).


The music – like the pop-culture-reference mash-up of the finale – is more daring, weaving together Madonna and Aretha Franklin, Lizzo and Elton John, later giving Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper's Shallow (from A Star Is Born) to the happy couple as a ballad soppy enough to suit their characters. Maybe that sounds unfair, but, as Buffy puts it, if the shoe fits… – Peter Crawley


Everyman Theatre, Cork

This year’s Everyman pantomime meets the challenge of updating an old and well-known story by linking its major theme to cultural references that range from Star Wars to The Young Offenders, from corporate jargon to a goose that quacks Corkonian. No negative energies are allowed: it’s all peace, love and chakras – plus a mad scientist whose experiments in genetic modification explain the transformations required by the plot.

This cohesive approach has been used before by this company; Martin Higgins, the scriptwriter, relies on pantomime’s great advantage in having an audience that changes year on year. Not so the principals: Michael Sands, Fionuala Linehan and Ciaran Bermingham offer the battery of quips and sallies as if never spoken before.

That may well be true of Bermingham’s line when his quite traditional dame emerges as a cow from the untraditional centrifuge to announce that she “went into the machine as Charlotte and came out as a Charolais”.

April Kelly-Hackett is such an endearing goose that her sale provokes a storm of juvenile protest from the auditorium

Set design by Olan Wrynn unfurls a coiled and glossy beanstalk above a carnival of legumes, while Alex Hindmarsh, hidden in his giant costume, is a satisfying ogre, just as April Kelly-Hackett is such an endearing goose that her sale provokes a storm of juvenile protest from the auditorium.

Catherine Mahon-Buckley, who directs this Everyman and Cada Performing Arts production, keeps her hard-working team on track, with Jimmy Brockie as Jack and Margarida Silva as Jill, Anth Kaley as musical director (with a live and visible band) and Ciara Coleman Geaney as costume supervisor (managing a dizzying series of changes supplied by Valentina Gambardella and Sam Wynn).

The self-inflicted din means some lines and melodies are obscured, and although the gymnasts of the dance ensembles are impressive, most of the choreography is undemanding. This might be excused, however, among the troupe of calves in their tutus, whose unweaned uncertainties are part of the show's general gaiety and charm. – Mary Leland


Grand Opera House, Belfast

It’s once-upon-a-time season in Belfast, and the big Christmas bash at the Grand Opera House is upon us. Its predictable, high-octane format is a dazzling visual and musical spectacle, with lavish sets, costumes and special effects, plus a sprinkling of television and cabaret celebs.

Leading the cast of Beauty and the Beast is Belfast’s favourite dame, May McFettridge, here clocking up her 30th Opera House panto in the role of Mrs Potty, housekeeper to Prince Sebastian. Over the years the voice has become more gravelly, the accent thicker and more impenetrable. The gags, however, have changed little. Audience members eagerly await a barrage of insults along the lines of “Where you from, big man?” “Poleglass.” “Catholic!”

The fairy tale of the ugly beast and the beautiful girl who is captivated by his inner goodness, which dates back to 1740, carries an enduring moral message. It takes hold in a head-turning opening scene where, on the huge darkened stage, a handsome but arrogant prince (Ben Richards) rejects a ragged old beggar woman. Instantly, she transforms him into a fearsome-looking creature before rising high into the air as a shimmering enchantress (Joanna O’Hare), whose sweet voice of reason will cast an air of calm over proceedings.

To the noisy delight of their army of fans, May McFettridge and Paddy Jenkins fluff their lines, fall over each other, get caught in doors and make things up as they go along

The action switches to a sunny town square, where warm-hearted Belle (engagingly played by Georgia Lennon, a newcomer) juggles the leering affections of Flash Harry (Danny Bayne) and the antics of her batty inventor father, Paddy (Paddy Jenkins), and his partner-in-crime, Mrs Potty. On Belle’s birthday the pair set off at speed for the castle gardens, in search of the perfect rose. Into their midst steps the court magician, Magic Mandy, whose role was wiped away by the enchantress’s curse. With her character’s powers removed, Mandy Muden has her work cut out in trying to connect with a less-than-responsive audience.

The second act largely confines itself to the echoing interior of the castle, where the unlikely love story falteringly unfolds. Lennon and Richards make a credible and touching pairing as they explore the theme of what constitutes true beauty. In contrast – and to the noisy delight of their army of fans – McFettridge and Jenkins fluff their lines, fall over each other, get caught in doors and make things up as they go along. – Jane Coyle


The Helix, Dublin

The setting for Claire Tighe and Karl Harpur’s millennial version of The Three Musketeers is Merryville, Fairytaleland, 400 years after Dumas père’s original tale played out, when the descendants of Athos, Porthos and Aramis embark on a three-part quest.

First they must find each other, then they must form their own band of modern musketeers, and, finally, they must find the stone of destiny and unseat the dastardly Lord Butface (Paul Byrom).

There is serious narrative at work in Tighe and Harpur’s script, with nods to Indiana Jones and The Lord of the Rings along the way. They add some real-life characters to the mix, with Maria Bailey, the Fine Gael TD, and Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant, playing active roles in the plot, as well as the humour. There is also a cute, complying dog, and even some dragons.

Despite the thrilling storyline and gender-bending twist, this version of The Three Musketeers makes sure it doesn't deviate too far from the traditional formula

Oh, and did I mention that one of the musketeers is a woman? She is Daria, played with verve by Orla Jennings, a thoroughly modern role model who is determined to prove that what you dream of is within your reach.

Despite the thrilling storyline and gender-bending twist, Tighe and Harpur make sure they don’t deviate too far from the traditional formula. Their panto has a villain (Lord Butface, who has mad, mobile eyebrows and a deep baritone), a sidekick too simple to be of any evil use (the wide-eyed, knock-kneed Aidan Mannion) and a dame (Chris Coroon, in serious fancy dress).

There are lots of contemporary pop numbers, too, including Tones and I's Dance Monkey, which Buddy (Colin Hughes) exploits for mass audience participation. Finally, there is a happy ending. That it comes without the promise or fulfilment of romance makes it even more satisfying. – Sara Keating


Cork Opera House

The opportunities for theatrical extravaganza offered by the romance of Peter Pan are gleefully seized by the creative team staging this production of JM Barrie’s psychologically provocative story.

So many possibilities of licence have been exploited since its first stage appearance, in 1904, that this version’s writers, Trevor Ryan and Frank Mackey, have safely followed the contemporary trend of explosive magic and scattergun narrative.

Cork Opera House has the facilities and the crew to float Peter Pan and Wendy, wings and wires all invisible, high above the imported set. They also float Mackey’s Nanny Nellie in a crinoline so buoyant as to suggest a hot-air balloon insecurely tied to its basket.

The energetic cast and chorus unite in a random riot of fun as Wendy, Michael and John Darling are flown off to Neverland

The production’s lighting designer, Drew McCarthy, keeps to the discipline of stage movement but also sweeps his pulsating lights around the auditorium, while its sound designers, Colm Hinchion and Peter Crudge, match the lighting and the sometimes surprising plot turns with an array of effects rivalling the contributions of the musical director, Ronan Holohan, and challenging the brave singing.

The energetic cast and chorus unite in a random riot of fun as Wendy, Michael and John Darling are flown off to Neverland to live, however briefly, with Peter Pan (Scott Hayward), the Lost Boys and Michael Grennell’s revengeful Captain Hook, a character who can walk off his ship apparently straight into the ocean.

Other directorial slippages include the almost non-appearance of the ticking crocodile that does for Hook. With competitive screaming in his charge, Sam Lupton, as Mr Smee, provides the requisite number of farts, bums and puns for a script that nonetheless offers a credible Peter as the boy who won't grow up and Phoebe Dipple's Wendy as the girl who can't grow down. – Mary Leland

Runs at Cork Opera House until Sunday, January 19th


Gaiety Theatre, Dublin

Aladdin is the source of inspiration for Daryn Crosbie’s new pantomime, but he layers many versions of the story upon each other to create a story that seems fresher than the Disneyfied poster might suggest.

With minimal contemporary references – Brexit, Maria Bailey and social-media trends get a little nod – the production gets straight to the drama and is happy to stay in the heightened realm of fairy tale.

If the expected magic seems a little on the low-key side in the first half, it’s perhaps only because Crosbie wants full appreciation for the special effects in the second, when, using the wizardry of the Gaiety’s lighting crew and a series of layered digital projections, the audience join Aladdin and Jasmine on a spectacular ride over the city of Agrabah.

Performances in general are gleefully knowing, and even those who play it straight can't resist grinning through it all

There are 24 musical numbers in this pantomime, plus what must be more than 100 musical references in the score: contemporary and classic pop, new and old musicals, even a nod to Joe Dolan. Its musical director, Peter Beckett, manages to sculpt them into a cohesive score, although some of the songs are sung at such a pace that the lyrics – rewritten by Crosbie for situational effect – are difficult to decipher.

Performances in general are gleefully knowing, with Joe Conlon’s corpsing Widow Twanky and Nicholas Grennell’s Soviet-inflected Abanazer providing the audience with the opportunity to be vocal in their preference for the goodies over the “bad guys” (with thanks to Billie Eilish for the anthem of villainy).

But even those who play it straight, such as Julian Capoeli as the hunky hero Aladdin, Suzie Seweify as the feisty fearless Princess Jasmine, who resists the traditional happy ending, and Norman Payne as an R&B-rocking, rhyme-rapping Genie – can't resist grinning through it all. – Sara Keating

Runs at the Gaiety Theatre until Sunday, January 19th