Cinderella – The Alban Arena
It was a dazzling night of pumpkins, ponies and pop stars for the Alban Arena’s polished production of Cinderella. We were promised “our best panto ever” and yes, they have delivered. From the moment the ushers started dancing in the aisles the show had the sell-out audience laughing and joining in. There were several real “ooh” moments, and plenty of in-jokes for the local crowd.
Each year the talented Evolution team mix up the panto formula, adapting the classic stories to make the most of their stars. With former chorister, Pop Idol finalist, singer of five (count ’em) number 1 singles and star of many West End musicals Gareth Gates as Prince Charming, we were treated to amazing songs this year. Gareth delivered three knock-out numbers, including Jason Mraz’s “I won’t give up on love” which captivated the audience and earned a huge round of applause. Gareth’s wonderful singing and effortless stage presence is worth the ticket price alone. Speaking to him afterwards and seeing how relaxed he is with people of all ages, it is incredible to remember the stammering teenager from Pop Idol.
The servant Dandini who switches place with Prince Charming was played by CBeebie favourite Andy Day. The younger children in the audience loved him and found him a calm, funny presence in the very lively show. When Andy asked a question, hundreds of little arms pointed in the right direction to help him out. Gareth and Andy together were a lovely combination and had an easy, very watchable camaraderie.
Cinderella was played by Jemma Carlisle, returning to St Albans after her success last year as the leading lady. Although still very young Jemma has performed in 16 pantomimes and many musicals and her fabulous voice and confident stage presence means that she more than holds her own in the strong cast. Laura Jane Matthewson played a young, funky Fairy Godmother, with some very funny lines. Laura Jane is a graduate of The Royal Academy of Music and has performed with Elton John – we get all the talent in St Albans! We were surrounded by young children dressed in Cinderella outfits with sparkly wands, enjoying their chance to dress like a star so it was good to see such strong female performers in action.
This production of Cinderella has something for everyone in the family. The music, including songs adapted from Hairspray and One Direction meant that people of every generation were humming along at some point. Even the Dads and “Grumpy Grandads” found “When the Saints” hard to resist and I was surrounded by waving arms and robust singing along!
The dancers of all ages are very slick, and I thought the Strictly Come Dancing version of the Palace Ball was such a clever idea, and was a chance to showcase the talented team. It is lovely to see our young local talent chosen to play the young villagers – great smiles everyone.
And of course, as we have come to expect from the St Albans pantomime, the comedy elements were terrific. Local favourite Bob Golding was in his element as Buttons. Cheeky, silly and at times VERY rude, Bob has huge appeal and oodles of talent. Our cool 11 year old was in stitches during Bob’s boardgame skit, and our 7 year old deafened me in one ear shouting “it’s behind you” during the classic bench scene. In fact, the bench got it’s own cheer it is such a favourite with the local crowd. 11 year old was delighted to see Ian Kirkby as Baron Hardup as she loves the BBC show The Slammer that he appears in. Ian is pretty horrible in that, but was silly and charming in panto, with some interesting dance moves. The ugly sisters played by returning favourite Sam Rabone and Gareth’s best friend Matthew Daines were fabulous. Look out for their costumes at the Ball and in the spooky woods – aren’t they amazing? This year Helga Wood (mother of Producer Emily Wood) made the sister’s costumes. Playing the ugly sisters is an art form and these two actors are at the top of their game. I will just warn any Dads sitting in the front row – you might be in for a tough time!
Following the success of last year the Evolution and Arena team have added another week to the panto run. Many of the key Christmas dates are sold out but there is some availability until the 5th January. The Arena have already sold over 6000 tickets for Jack and the Beanstalk next year, so get yours while you can!