Review: Cinderella at Ventnor Winter Gardens

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Brilliantly hilarious

A perfect blend of comedy and pathos with just the right amount of musical numbers!

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The presence of Cinderella is rife this Christmas as it feels like every theatre up and down the country are throwing their storytelling hat in the ring to try and win the top spot. Despite this, Ventnor Theatre Group takes the traditional story we know and love transforming it to an all-singing, all-dancing, and all panto remix. Joe Plumb’s brilliant writing and directing makes this show unique and sets it aside from many of the productions landing on the stage in the lead up to Christmas.

We are still given the love story, lost shoe, and evil sisters but there is an undertone to the narrative that tackles issues of online bullying in a very relatable and tangible way without it dominating the show and becoming a sad, dull affair. Cinderella is modernised in every sense from her working in a pie shop and living on her own, to having the evil step-sisters being internet stars and vlogging at every chance they have.

There was something for everyone in this show; the children fell in love with the princess-like transformation of Cinderella, whereas the innuendos were meant for the adults, all of which were appreciated (especially the recurring joke of Charming’s big balls… the party variety rather than anything else!). However, all could enjoy the jokes that permeated the script, the iconography of famous Princesses, and the splicing of musical numbers throughout.

The music was central to the show with songs from recent and renowned shows such as Six, Kinky Boots, and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, as well as pop songs like ‘Wrecking Ball’ by Miley Cyrus, all of which provided a vitality that didn’t just live on stage but infected the audience and made you want to get up and dance with the Fairy Godmother. This was more of a concert with completely unexpected moments, such as the revision of Chicago’s Cell Block Tango that had evil villains at the centre and the wicked step-mother at the top – it was insanely fantastic!

Ashleigh Hunt-Davis gave Cinderella a new lease of life and performed with likability and sweetness, undercut with stealthy sass that enhanced that character and placed her firmly in the 21st century. Nowhere was this more obvious than during her shock rejection of Charming’s proposal with the justification that they had only just met, something everyone thinks whenever we watch such happy ending films. Plumb’s idea to call out the ‘happily ever after’ trope punctuated such a fantastical story with realism and honestly, that felt necessary: for too long have Princesses succumbed to a proposal from a man and here Cinderella was changing that. Yay feminism.

Possibly the best part of Cinderella was Jacqui Swallows performance as the Fairy Godmother! There is nothing else that can be said about this other than what a perfect choice to have a drag queen play a slightly miserable, slightly cynical, but all-round hilarious Godmother – why haven’t I seen it before? Swallows embodied the pantomime dame role perfectly and gave an amazing performance along with the pumpkin and mice that allowed for the pantomime aspect to really come through and simply encourage fun to be had on and off stage.

Plumb’s writing and directing allowed this to be a fast-paced production that gave you few moments to stop and think and instead coaxed you to be swept along by the wave of the story! This Cinderella is one that works perfectly for today’s audiences and the show delivered in every way – people were laughing, interacting and dancing. All were entertaining.

Any Christmas pantos I see in the future will have a hard time living up to this, especially if not even one drag queen is cast and contained within the script isn’t a minimum of five of the same innuendos!

To keep up with Joe Plumb’s next show, check him out here.

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Third year English and Film student. Dog obsessed, tea drinking, and rewatching anything I can to pass the time.

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