Theatre Review: Scouse Cinderella, Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool

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Image Source: Royal Court Theatre

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Pantomime
Genre: Comedy
Date: November 29 2018
Location: Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool

Taking the pantomime concept to a different level, once again the Royal Court provided its unique, adult-aimed version of a classic Christmas panto tale, in this case Cinderella with a distinctly Scouse twang!

This local take on the timeless story of Cinderella begins with the news that Cinderella (Hayley Sheen) has lost her mother – the Fairly Goodmother, played by Lindzi Germain – in a chip pan fire, supposedly started (albeit accidentally) by Cinders. Meanwhile, the local woods are put up for sale to raise money for the City Council, meaning that the animals are going to lose their natural habitat. The comedy kicks in right away, especially when we meet Joe Hardupson (Keddy Sutton), a completely believable parody of Mayor Joe Anderson, which leads to all sorts of sight gags and region-based one-liners. The Mayor, who is Cinders’ father, cries at the grave of his wife, which reads “1973-Yesterday!”

The audience participation is encouraged throughout, with a member of the public given a special diamond ring by Buttons (Michael Fletcher), this being a ring – The Heart Of Liverpool – that holds the key to potential prosperity and fortune. Meanwhile, Cinder’s evil auntie, and the twin sister of her mum (Lillian Redrowding, also played by Lindzi Germain), turns up out of the blue, and manages to switch the will of the dearly departed with one of her own, meaning that when Mayor Hardupson reads it out, it will be her and not Cinders who receives the diamond ring, as well as her housing company benefitting from the planned forest works.

Along the way, and with amusing references to the likes of the Adelphi Hotel (“dark, damp and full of insects!”) and other landmarks, Lillian brings along the two Ugly Sisters (Choo, played by Andrew Schofield, and Brook, played by Paul Duckworth; put their names together and you get Tuebrook!), and the three of them makes Cinders’ life miserable, as well as that of her friend Buttons. We also learn that because of the “giant f–king dolls” (which leads to some funny jokes, such as one where a bus trip to the ball later on is not possible because of a huge knife being driven through one of them), the Mayor has no money left (which may indeed be accurate), hence the need to sell the woods. We also meet Peter Prince (Stephen Fletcher), who returns having seen the error of his once-evil ways, and expresses his love for Cinders, though it is Button who really loves her.

It all leads to the crew being invited to Peter Prince’s Ball (he assures us that it’s a giant ball). The Ugly Sisters and Lillian prevent Cinders from getting an invite, locking her and Buttons in the fridge while they use all sorts of ingredients (such as an “old bag” with Theresa May’s face on it, “sugar” (Alan Sugar’s face is adorned on that bag) and juice from a local cow (the bag shows Esther McVey here) to make a cake for the Ball, all while the Mayor and Lillian begin to develop romantic feelings for one another. Unbeknownst to the evil lot (including the Sisters, who discuss how bad they would look travelling there in a Delta cab), Peter provides an invite to the Ball for Cinderella. This leads to a slightly confusing journey montage scene as all involved travel to the Ball, held in St George’s Hall which had images of Cilla Black, Jimmy Tarbuck, Ken Dodd and Joe himself, and they were a sight to see.

At the Ball, Cinders (using an alias, Princess Drive) dances with Peter and is generally the star of the show, which angers her relatives (except Joe, who doesn’t realise that she is present). But she leaves early to make the last train home, thus meaning that when she exits just before midnight, one of her shoes is left behind. After a long and very funny scene where The Sisters perform their own, alcohol-related version of The Twelve Days Of Christmas (with each getting more and more footless as they drink the beverages), we see Peter’s journey to find the true owner of the shoe, which brings him to the home of Cinders and co. In a great twist, the shoe actually fits one of the sisters – Choo – which leads to the fourth wall being broken and, amidst the chaos of the cast implying that things have gone badly wrong, one of the “crew” workers – Katy, played by Eva McKenna – loses her rag and has a go at everyone, only to be inadvertently injured as the show falls apart around them. This scene went on a bit too long, and though we do see Katy involved in fixing production issues throughout, this didn’t happen often enough for it to lead to the major scene that it would become later on, but it still made for one of the most memorable aspects of this show, and a refreshing left-turn on the usual moment where the show finds the right foot.

Eventually, after all sorts of daftness with the show being remedied (including Buttons snogging Lillian), we finally get to the shoe fitting Cinder’s foot, and her and Peter coming together – but that’s not it. Because the woods are still up for sale, and though Peter has a lot of money to salvage the situation, it still looks like Lillian and co. will take ownership. But then Buttons, who is provided with the real will and a ton of gold by one of the animal critters, shows up and buys the woods outright, saving the day for all. To top it off, the lying Lillian is sent by the Mayor to St Helens (“I’m not that bad!” she screams in terror), and Buttons ultimately ends up marrying Cinders, with our female hero (who was called out on her real-life pregnancy by Katy when things went wrong earlier) choosing to go for the true good guy as opposed to the one who had let her down before.

The music was really good, with some notable original tunes, and the singing performances of Hayley Sheen and Michael Fletcher were outstanding. Andrew Schofield and Paul Duckworth were hysterical during their scenes, though I would have liked to have seen more of them. The costumes ranged from authentic to highly amusing (such as the backless dresses for the Ugly Sisters as they headed to the Ball), and the local references were spot-on without becoming overwhelming or detrimental to the story. The show finished off with I’ve Had The Time Of My Life, with the Mayor being the subject of the big lift.

This was a great show overall. Aside from the points that I mentioned, the settings were very effective, and one could tell that a lot of work had gone into them. Similarly, there was plenty of attention to detail for the props, the one-liners – in a nutshell, it was the ideal Liverpool-based panto for the obviously-local audience. Speaking of which, the one big negative for me (aside from occasional audio issues early on) was not the fault of the performers or the production, but rather the extremely ignorant attendees sat by me who were desperate to be heard over everybody else, whether it be screaming the songs, howling at every joke, or even seemingly reading out scripted dialogue at times. It became so bad that I couldn’t hear the performers during much of the second half; that they continued to sing along loudly, even when Buttons asked only for the other half of the theatre to join in with Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, sums things up. I hope for the sake of anybody else coming to see this show that they do not have such an experience, because it put a dampener on the evening.

Still, this review is designed to cover the elements of the show that the cast and crew were in control of, and to that end, this was a real Christmas treat. If you’re looking for something different, yet still very funny and perfect for the Liverpool crowd, then Scouse Cinderella is the show that you have to see this Christmas.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 – Excellent