Theatre 503, The Latchmere.

In this family-friendly show, Sleeping Trees embark on a quirky romp through panto-land – though not as we know it…

Cinderella in rags encounters the Tricksy Knomes. Pic: Ian Kitt

Cinderella in rags encounters the Tricksy Knomes                 Pic: Ian Kitt

We all expect to see at least one man in a dress at the pantomime – that’s the Dame’s job, isn’t it? Well, not in Theatre 503’s first-ever festive pantomime, where Cinderella herself has a beard and looks impressively butch even in a silky ballgown and crystal slippers.

Written and performed by Sleeping Trees theatre company, Cinderella and the Beanstalk is a highly entertaining show where pantomime and fairytales mingle into a boisterous yarn packed with music and comedy.

John Woodburn, James Dunnell-Smith and Joshua George Smith all turn up to announce the show in their best clothes – only to find their large and unwieldy cast have failed to turn up. Undaunted, they decide to perform the show themselves – and they proceed to send Cinderella to the ball, through a magic forest and up a beanstalk before all her Christmas dreams come true.

These three play off each other with ease and obvious enjoyment, maintaining a high-octane level of energy throughout the show, with the organised chaos smoothly directed by Tom Attenborough. There are endless quick changes and some great characterisations, especially Joshua George Smith’s wicked little puppet Rumplestiltskin.

They also have a gem in musician Mark Newnham, who maintains a discreet but vital role in the corner, providing a wonderful range of loops and sound effects for fairy visitations and evil threats alike. He’s also composer and accompanist for the handful of polished musical numbers that punctuate the show – from the wonderfully cheesy duet between Cinderella and her Prince as they both discover a mutual love of DIY, to the torch song heartbreaker of Fairy Godmothers Need Love Too.

Simon Wells’ impressive design and costumes demonstrate his strong pedigree – he  worked on Rags the Musical at the Lyric, and assisted the Peter McKintosh’s impeccably elegant designs for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Savoy Theatre. With multiple fast-changes, plus a magic beanstalk to fit into a very snug stage space, he’s done a fine job.

The second half opens with an inspired potted version of the Christmas classic movie Home Alone, with lots of audience participation. After that, there’s some difficulty in regaining momentum for the main show, but it ends with a rousing Christmas song and some very happy little faces from the children in the audience.

Musician Mark finally gets to shine by stepping into the limelight, although he’s rather heavily disguised as a special guest that no one was expecting…

Sleeping Trees have written a sharp, spirited romp through panto-land, producing an uplifting show that’s perfect for kids – as well as entertaining adults who feel like a bit of Christmas nostalgia sprinkled with modern spice.

Until Saturday 10 January 2015

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