Being the ignorant student that I am, I don’t really know where Fareham is (is there anything there?). That’s why I was shocked when I found out that Anne Charleston (better known as Madge Bishop from Neighbours) would be in Fareham’s pantomime, Cinderella, this year. How did such a little place get such a big name to perform at their panto?! Having appeared in Neighbours for almost 13 years, and named in several polls as one of the best soap characters ever, how has Harold Bishop’s beloved wife ended up in a sleepy market town somewhere between Southampton and Portsmouth? Then it hit me, maybe no-one cares about Neighbours like I do. I have no shame in admitting that I’m a huge fan, and I have tuned in to watch the residents of Ramsay Street lead their mundane lives for years, so maybe it’s just me who cares about Madge being in Fareham? Hm, maybe, but I was still excited.
Ferneham Hall was surprisingly large and the venue was packed out for the show, with hoards of excited children waving flashing sticks and boppers around like lethal weapons. The show kicked off with a stellar performance from Dandini (played by Amy Ross) – Prince Charming’s “personal valet” – who sang a medley of cheery songs including Singin’ In The Rain’s ‘Good Morning’, Electric Light Orchestra’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’ and nursery-favourite, ‘The Sun Has Got His Hat On’. Buttons, played by Ben Redfern, soon exclaims “We’ve got your money and we’ve locked the doors so you might as well have a good time whilst you’re here,” so we settle down and embrace the performance. The first thing that is to be noticed here is that Dandini and Prince Charming are both played by women. Although they are playing men, the costume choice is extremely odd, both opting for saucy tights and a very short jacket on top. These strange costumes continue for the remainder of the show; something for the dads?
The production team can only be praised for the music choices, opting for contemporary tracks like ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ which Buttons sings to an effigy of Cinderella, and a rather disturbing but comical medley of Lady Gaga hits from the ugly stepsisters (Richard Pocock and Mark Siney). Other crowd favourites also wriggle their way in, including ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’ from The Lion King, and Gangnam style – a 2012 pantomime essential – performed by the ugly stepsisters wearing fluorescent leggings, tutus and bras.
Aside from the music, the choreographer must be complemented for relatively simple but extremely effective routines which are pleasing to watch; most notably being the tap sequence and the huge 70s Bee Gees medley where almost all of the cast seem to be on stage. The stage production is also impressive for a relatively small production with beautifully crafted sets and an incredible horse which lifts right up into the air and out into the audience as Cinderella (Carly Thoms) travels to the ball.
At 2 ½ hours including a 30 minute interval, the show is quite long, and the first half did drag a little. Whilst some cast members such as Ben Redfern as Buttons and Amy Ross as Dandini were played exceptionally well, Carly Thoms’ Cinderella and Sammy Kelly’s Prince Charming weren’t as convincing. Moving back to Anne Charleston, her part of the fairy godmother was also disappointing. Disjointed from the rest of the performance, her moments on stage were random and sadly, she clearly struggled to remember her lines. It’s a shame that this was the character whom she had to play, for it would have perhaps helped her to be playing a character with more interaction with the protagonists. Richard Pocock and Mark Siney who play the ugly stepsisters however, must be praised for the most over-the-top, extravagant and bitchy representation that could be imagined. The story focussed more heavily on this pair than Cinderella which was a relief as at least the audience found them funny, despite some of the jokes going over everyones heads.
Nevertheless, this is a pantomime! Not everything is meant to go well. Who cares if Prince Charming and Dandini are both women? Who cares if Madge off Neighbours couldn’t really remember what she was meant to be doing? Who cares if the ugly stepsisters are the campest things since Rylan Clark on the X Factor? This is what pantomime is all about! If you like pantomimes, you’re sure to love this, but if you don’t, you will hate it with every ounce of your soul. Fareham’s panto is a great effort, and fun for anyone who is willing to embrace it.
The production runs until 6th January 2013, and tickets can be purchased by phoning the venue on 01329 231 942.