Star Rae Productions
Earl Arts Centre
January 20th, 2023
The Cinderella story is such a beloved fairy tale that it needs no introduction. This production from Star Rae Productions (Directed by Rachael Leigh) brings the classic to Launceston in the manner of a musical pantomime, a form which has had a surprisingly long absence in the Launceston Community. Pantomime is a difficult style to successfully manufacture as it requires boundless amounts of energy, silliness, and improvisation, as well as a particular manner of breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience to maintain the attention of young children. For the majority, this cast was able to sustain this energy for the duration but were unfortunately unable to completely capture the spark that was required for a pantomime to be successful.
As mentioned, one key element of a Pantomime is a manner of fourth wall breaking, where the actors talk directly to the audience and get their help to move the story along. While this is a major component of this genre, there was a surprising lack of these moments in this show. Only three characters, Cinderella, Buttons and the Fairy Godmother seem to utilise this technique and the lack of this resulted in the production being confused at times, as it teetered between “Pantomime” and “Serious.” I would have liked to see more of the cheesy audience interactions be present, so that some of the other cheesier moments littered throughout the direction had a little more purpose to them.
Of the characters who leant into the pantomime element, Ashley Eyles as the title role of Cinderella was the standout exponent. It’s important in these moments, to have a clear and distinct snap between inside the “world of the play” and outside the “world of the play.” Eyles was able to maintain her grounded and natural performance as Cinderella, while being outside of the “world of the play”, as she broke the fourth wall. Herself and Janice Molineux as the Fairy Godmother, were able to do this successfully (Although Molineux’s German accent possibly made the children in the audience unable to fully uncover who she was.) Thomas Cross who did play a charming and sympathetic Buttons, sadly didn’t have this disconnect when talking to the audience, which resulted in his performance being unindustrious, with an expectation that he was just going to be loved by the audience regardless. A few added improvised lines to try to generate laughter, kept his performance locked inside the play, and kept the audience out, which hinders the cheesiness and fun of the pantomime.
Sadly, the rest of the cast didn’t have these specifically obvious direct address moments, but there were still some standout performers. Mitchell Trott as Prince Charming and Jan Gluszyk as his father King Extremely Charming, stole the show with a “Charming” scene in the woods, culminating in Jan accompanying himself acoustically with his guitar, as he sang “They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To,” which probably was the best song of the show. Nathaniel Wood and Kevin Vong provided us with some comic relief as the two ugliest stepsisters I’ve seen, plus the irony of having a step sister named Alopecia, played by a man with a huge beard, was definitely an inspired choice.
Kellie Cutler’s Musical Direction was clever and inventive as she transformed what was originally a simple piano score to incorporate the double bass, drums, guitar, bongos, maracas and even the triangle, in what was her debut as sole musical director. This inventiveness led to each song sounding unique and ensured we didn’t get bored musically, it was outstanding work. Unfortunately, the added ensemble seemed to be a little unnecessary as they seemed to barely appear on stage except during group dance numbers, which were confidently choreographed by Holly Gregg. The few smaller samples of choreography, such as the stepsisters, and the Ballroom Waltz were executed with the right amount of suitability for the scene which served the show well. The Ballroom Waltz and duet between Charming and Cinderella was a stunning build to the climax of the show, as the chemistry between Eyles and Trott was undeniable.
Unfortunately, my main negatives were with the show’s pacing and length. A pantomime needs to be short, sharp, and snappy, but this production was slow paced and dragged itself out through long and unnecessary scene changes, some stumbling over lines which dropped the energy, and some added improvisation that didn’t serve the show.
In the end, Cinderella seemed to be an enjoyable experience for the children whose parents let them stay up past their bedtime, and in the end that is what it is all about. Hearing their audible gasps as Cinderella magically changed into her dress was what Children’s theatre is there to do, encouraging kids to be transformed by the magic of the theatre. Just be sure to make it snappy so those same kids can get home at a reasonable hour. Cinderella closes tomorrow, try to get along and show your support.
Review By Matt Taylor