Maybe I’m just all Pantoed out. Most Decembers I wouldn’t usually bother with a single example but this year I’m already in double figures and there’s only so much frivolity a body can stand. And yet the Comic Relief panto, shown on Christmas Eve and now on the iPlayer for no less than eleven months, promised so much with a cast of significant names, a script by comedy writing royalty, produced by Richard Curtis – a man generally with the Midas touch and all in aid of promoting very worthy causes. To use a favourite word of our dear PM, “alas” – the results are a terrible disappointment.
Cinderella is basically a celebrity online first reading with (it is claimed) no rehearsal and make do and mend costumes and props – and my goodness does that show. As the cast bumble their way through a lacklustre retelling of the tale it is enlivened somewhat by the colourful scene setting illustrations from Quentin Blake and some pleasant singing from Sam Smith and Leona Lewis. There are also a number of pop-up cameos from the worlds of acting and comedy and the usual Comic Relief style appeals for donations. And while the latter is the real purpose for broadcasting this stuff (and more power to their collective elbow) it would have been rewarding to see carefully crafted product to which some care and attention had been paid. As it is, we were left with a student rag week set of material/performances which was short on funny and high on tedium.
The big acting names in the cast – Olivia Coleman (Fairy Godmother), Helena Bonham Carter (Lady Devilia) and Tom Hollander (Baron Hardup) – could do this sort of thing in their sleep; and to all intents and purposes they might well have been. Current acting flavours of the month, Anya Taylor-Joy as Cinderella and Regé-Jean Page as Prince Charming, embrace the latter character’s surname for their style of performance but fail to connect (tricky over Zoom, I’ll admit). Guz Khan makes a chirpy Buttons whose attempts at declaring his love for the heroine are stymied by screen freeze but David Walliams simply plays David Walliams (or at least what he has developed as his camp and catty public persona). The only performers who captured the true spirit of panto were Daisy May and Charlie Cooper playing the Ugly Sisters; Daisy May particularly threw herself into the role of Cheryl (or was she Beryl?) and both brought a sense of energy to what they were doing to the point where it was a shame when they were not on screen.
The script was by The Dawson Brothers who have written material for a number of high-profile comedy shows although this particular example failed to show them in their best light. Of course, any panto worth its salt is full of groanworthy moments but in the way of these things those groans are usually a reverse form of approbation; this time round they were just simply groans. Given that the cast were apparently discovering the lines for the first time it is hardly surprising that jokes failed to be pointed and high spot moments were lost. There were one or two entertaining sight gags as props were “passed” across the Zoom boxes – the glass slipper, for instance, kept changing from a besilvered trainer, to an ordinary black (and patently male) shoe to a flip flop. But otherwise, the physical comedy a pantomime needs is sorely lacking the performers being confined as they are by the limitations of their home technology. The whole is purportedly directed by Matt Lipsey though if there were no rehearsals it’s difficult to see what could actually be directed.
I hope this production managed to raise plenty of cash because it did nothing in terms of raising the spirits. Unfortunately, it is a typical example of the paucity of imagination and the lack of entertainment value of this year’s festive telly offerings which have been dire. Comic Relief could, and should, have been the ones to reverse that particular trend. In essence this is a ten minute money raiser sketch extended way beyond reasonable limits to an hour. And as if that isn’t already enough, I notice that the version now available on iPlayer is the extended “Director’s Cut” – I think viewers are the ones in need of a Fairy Godmother!
Cinderella – A Comic Relief Pantomime For Christmas is available on the BBC iPlayer – click here
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